Queensland police are still unsure if the sabotage devastating the nation’s strawberry industry is the work of a single person or several people acting independently.
The crisis is spreading after metal needles were found in strawberries in Queensland, and as far away as Perth, Tasmania and New Zealand.
The Queensland police commissioner, Ian Stewart, said the investigation was complicated by the vast web of supply chains.
“There is a range of really complex scenarios which could play out here, and we’re looking at all of them, and that’s what’s taking the time,” he said on Monday.
The investigation was complicated further when a woman was caught putting a needle into a banana in central Queensland, in an apparent copycat act.
However, it is understood the woman, who was caught sabotaging a banana at a shop in Mackay, has mental health issues.
Stewart did not give details but confirmed police were also investigating a banana contamination.
The Queensland agriculture minister, Mark Furner, met with strawberry growers nervous about their future as the number of needle contamination cases grew to 10 and New Zealand food distributors removed Australian strawberries from their shelves.
The vice-president of the Queensland Strawberry Growers Association, Adrian Schultz, said what started with a single “act of commercial terrorism” had brought a multimillion-dollar industry to its knees, with jobs beyond the growers now likely to be lost.
“I’m angry for all the associated people, it’s the farmers, the people who supply them, the packaging people, the truckies with families to support, who suddenly lose their jobs … it’s far-reaching,” he told ABC radio on Monday.
Growers met with Furner on Sunday to discuss the commercial effects of the contamination that began at a south-east Queensland farm eight days ago.
Furner said industry specific assistance packages were being considered but no plan would be made until an understanding of the “complete effect” of the sabotage was understood.
“We won’t be coming up with any half-baked outcomes … we need to listen to what is required,” he said.
There are about 150 commercial strawberry growers in Queensland.
Furner said a variety of generic government assistance packages were available and these would be offered to growers.
He said many growers were already experiencing economic stresses before the contamination began due to an oversupply of fruit, which had led to retail prices for a punnet falling to around $1.50.