Boy arrested over berry sabotage

A boy has been arrested in Australia after admitting he put needles in strawberries as a ''prank''.

New South Wales detectives announced the arrest this afternoon, the Daily Mail reports.

Acting Assistant Commissioner Stuart Smith said the arrest had been made in the past few days.

While the Daily Mail said the alleged offender was a ''young boy'', 7News says he is a teenager.

News of the arrest comes as the federal government announces harsh new criminal penalties in response to the strawberry needle crisis.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the "idiot" who first sabotaged Queensland strawberries, setting off a distressing series of events, had risked the livelihoods of farmers and put fear in the hearts of parents across the country.

"This is a shocking and cowardly thing for this individual and others who have jumped onto the bandwagon here to have engaged in," Mr Morrison told reporters in Canberra on Wednesday.

Anyone found guilty of contaminating food could soon face a maximum of 15 years in prison, up from 10 years.

The threshold for the harsh penalties will also be lowered from an intention to do cause anxiety or harm, to simply engaging in a reckless act.

The new criminal penalties are on par with child pornography and terror financing offences.

Additionally, anyone who piggy-backs off such a crisis by engaging in a reckless hoax would also face 10 years behind bars.

The offence would extend to people who provide false reports or make jokes in poor taste on Facebook.

"It's not a joke, it's not funny, you are putting the livelihoods of hard-working Australians at risk and you are scaring children, you're a coward and you're a grub." Mr Morrison said.

"If you do that sort of thing in this country, we will come after you and we will throw the book at you."

Mr Morrison wants the laws to pass parliament by the time it rises on Thursday evening.

"I don't care if you've got a gripe with a company, I don't care whether you've got a gripe with your fellow worker, this is a very serious thing," he said.

Attorney-General Christian Porter said the sanctions would not be applied retrospectively to those responsible for the existing strawberry saga.

"But the reason we are doing this so quickly is ... this sends a massive deterrence message to anyone out there who would further cripple this industry."

The copycats are worse than those behind the initial crime, Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk says.

More than 100 police including 60 detectives are now investigating the sabotage and the state government has offered a $100,000 reward leading to the arrest of those involved.

"What isn't helpful is the number of copycat and fake reports making an already difficult situation worse," Ms Palaszczuk told Parliament on Wednesday.

"This is something with which the growers have expressed their anger and frustration and I couldn't agree more."

"The people copying this crime are in many ways worse than those who started it."

What started out as a health issue impacting two Sunshine Coast suppliers has spread to an entire industry with farmers now forced to stand down staff and dump their produce by the truckload.

West Australian police confirmed on Wednesday they were investigating 10 claims, and the WA government is also offering a $100,000 reward.

NSW police were investigating at least 20 cases of needles being found in fruit, including claims of needles being found in an apple and a banana.

Perpetrators, including copycats and consumers falsely claiming a discovery, could face up to 10 years in jail for food contamination.

In Victoria the opposition has called for bipartisan support to create a new offence for deliberately contaminating food with a mandatory three year prison sentence.

In Queensland, struggling growers have been boosted by the announcement of a $1 million fund to help them through the crisis.

The funding has been matched by the federal government.

Horticulture body Growcom has implored consumers to keep buying strawberries.

"Hang in there with us and our saying will be 'cut it up, don't cut us out'," Growcom chief executive David Thomson said.

Former Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce said the culprits must be "pursued and hunted down".

"It is not only a threat to the strawberry industry, it is a threat across the food production industry. We have got to treat it as such," he told the Nine Network.

The scare is expected to result in a review of fruit handling, storage and packaging following the police investigations, Mr Thomson said.

From 9am on Wednesday all fresh strawberries being exported from Australia must be metal-contaminant free.

The Department of Agriculture and Water Resources announced the interim control measure on Tuesday evening in response to the growing situation.

"These measures apply to fresh strawberry exports to all markets, and will remain in place until the risk of metal contaminants has been appropriately managed."

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