NZ needs to 'calm down' about needles - strawberry grower

Strawberry growers are urging the public not to panic after a needle was found in a punnet of strawberries at an Auckland supermarket.

It was from Western Australia, and is the first found here since the crisis began across the ditch more than a week ago.

Phil Greig has been growing strawberries for 30 years, and hopes a panicked public doesn't ruin his livelihood and his life.

"New Zealanders are a bit smarter than our cousins over in Australia, so [I'm] hoping it's not going to be an issue."

Australian strawberries have been pulled off the shelves here after a needle was found in a punnet from Western Australia at the St Lukes Countdown over the weekend.

That's enough for some shoppers to stop buying Kiwi strawberries too.

"I love strawberries but I'm not going to get any, it's a shame," one told Newshub.

"I won't be, not for a very long time," said another.

Biosecurity Minister Damien O'Connor admits greater care could have been taken to avoid such a crisis.

"Clearly there could've been better checks to make sure these didn't get onto the shelves, but that's part of the investigation and the review."

It's been a week since the crisis unfolded across the ditch, and so far 100 needles have been found in Australian fruit.

Tonnes of berries have had to be dumped, and the concern now is that could happen here if copycats catch on.

"You can't absolutely prevent idiotic and criminal behaviour from occurring," says Mr O'Connor. "That's effectively what's happened here."

Police, the Ministry for Primary Industries and supermarkets are investigating, and metal detectors could be installed to put the public at ease.

Anyone who finds anything suspicious in their food is urged to contact their local police immediately.

Whanganui Police received a report of a pin found in takeaway food over the weekend, but it turned out to be an "honest mistake" rather than malicious.

"We've got a number of growers with their livelihoods on the line," says Strawberries NZ executive manager Michael Ahern. "Employees and their service companies, there's a lot at stake."

Mr Greig says we all just need to calm down.

"I think we're panicking a little. It's not nice and it's a stupid thing that's happened, but it's not happening in New Zealand - it's an Aussie problem."

Our strawberry industry is worth more than $35 million, with around 70 growers. As the big summer season is about to begin, they hope that stopping Australian strawberries will mean the end of the needle crisis.