Farm supervisor charged over Australia strawberry needle scare

A former strawberry farm supervisor was accused in court Monday of retaliating over a workplace grievance by putting needles into the fruit, sparking recalls that devastated the Australian industry.

Magistrate Christine Roney said she would not consider granting bail for the woman until the reasons for her actions became clearer. Prosecutors alleged that My Ut Trinh was "motivated by spite or revenge."

While no injuries were reported from the needles, the crisis escalated to six states and neighbouring New Zealand. Australia's multimillion-dollar strawberry industry suffered major financial losses, with fruit recalled from supermarket shelves and destroyed. Major food distributors in New Zealand removed Australian strawberries from stores.

Jon Wacker, State Crime Command superintendent, told reporters before the court hearing that 230 incidents were reported across Australia, affecting 68 strawberry brands. The scare was concentrated in Queensland state, where 77 incidents were reported, 15 of which were believed to be hoaxes or false complaints.

Trinh, 50, was the first person arrested and has been charged with seven counts of contamination of goods with intent to cause economic loss. She could face up to 10 years in jail if convicted.

A Vietnamese refugee who arrived by boat two decades ago and became an Australian citizen, Trinh was working as a supervisor of fruit pickers at the Berrylicious strawberry farm near Caboolture, north of Brisbane, when she allegedly inserted needles into the fruit between Sept. 2 and 5, the court was told.

Michael Cridland, a lawyer who represents My Ut Trinh, leaves the Magistrates Court in Brisbane on Monday. My Ut Trinh has been charged with seven counts of contamination of goods with intent to cause economic loss. (EPA-EFE)

Prosecutor Cheryl Tesch said it would be alleged in court that DNA matching Trinh's was found on one of the needles discovered in a strawberry.

Trinh's lawyer, Michael Cridland, withdrew a bail application, but said his client was not an unacceptable flight risk. She was remanded in custody until Nov. 22.

Walker said the police investigation into the broader crisis was continuing.

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