Why the Government Wants to Introduce Harsher New Penalties for Food Contamination Offences


50-year-old My Ut Trinh was arrested in Queensland late yesterday when she was charged for allegedly contaminating strawberries with needles causing the recent strawberry needle contamination scare throughout our nation.

It’s been seen as “an act of treachery against our nation” says Danny Doherty, Detective Superintendent- from the NSW Robbery and serious crime squad.

Ms. Trinh faced court today specifically in respect to charges that related only to 6 or 7 punnets of strawberries- suggesting that the remaining 200 plus incidents of this were copycats or false reports The Queensland Strawberry Growers Association finds this disconcerting although thank the police force for tirelessly working on this case.

Following her arrest late yesterday, she spent the night at the Brisbane watch house before appearing at the Brisbane Magistrates Court today. She wasn’t granted bail and remains in custody at least until she appears in court again.

It is alleged that her DNA was found on a needle that was found contaminated inside a strawberry.

Detective Superintendent Jon Wacker from the Drug and Serious Crime Group said, ‘this has probably been one of the most trying investigations that I’ve been part of, as I’ve said we’ve worked tirelessly, it’s a fairly unique investigation…. We believe the evidence is strong’.

It is reported that Ms. Trinh is a former supervisor of the Berrylicious and Berry Obsession farm in North Brisbane. The police allege that she believed that she bitter at the way she was being treated and allegedly spoke to other workers about getting revenge.

The Queensland Growers Association in a statement said ‘it was a crisis driven by social media and the only real victims were the strawberry growers, and to some extent other Australian fruit growers and exporters’.

Significant fruit as a result was destroyed after the first report came from Queensland on 12 September when a victim swallowed half a needle after purchasing it from Woolworths in North Brisbane- following this, reports then followed from the other States and Territories.

The Statistics on the Strawberry Needle Contamination Scare on Our Nation

6 strawberry brands were recalled while a number of supermarkets pulled out their strawberries from the stores shelves.

Around two-hundred and thirty reports came out across the nation, affecting sixty-eight strawberry brands.

Out of the two-hundred and thirty reports- nearly two-hundred involved sewing needles.

The Government of Queensland even put up a million-dollar reward prize to catch the perpetrator(s). As a result, the Government put up one million-dollars to assist the growers.

There is no doubt that the consequences were far-reaching, affecting many families from an anxiety and financial point of view.

The Government, as result of this experience have responded with an intention to now increase the maximum penalty, which is currently 10-years imprisonment, to 15-years imprisonment.

The Law on Contaminating Food

Section 93K of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) prohibits anyone from contaminating food in any way with the intention of causing public alarm or financial loss as a result of public awareness.

Anyone guilty of this offence can expect to face a criminal conviction and up to a term of imprisonment of 10-years.

‘contamination’ is defined in section 93J of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW), and includes any interference with a food (even making it look like it has been interfered with). Contamination involves any kind of interference with the food or goods.

Contamination can be inserting needles in food or fruits, it can include putting poison in food.

Where death or grievous bodily harm (really serious injury) is caused from committing the offence of food contamination, the penalty rises to 25-years imprisonment under section 93O of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW).

You can still be guilty of this higher penalty offence of food contamination if no one actually died (or if there was no grievous bodily harm caused) if police can prove that you at least intended to cause this kind of harm or intended to cause death.

‘Grievous bodily harm’ cases are considered more serious kinds of harm than ‘actual bodily harm’. Grievous bodily harm is harm that is considered by the law as any permanent or serious disfiguring of the person. It includes any grievous bodily disease. It also includes the destruction of the foetus of a pregnant woman.

For ‘actual bodily harm’ cases on the other hand, involves harm that is not as serious as grievous bodily harm. Examples include scratches or bruising. It is any harm that is more than transient or trifling.

For a more thorough outline on this topic, see our blog on the law and penalties for food contamination in NSW.

About Jimmy Singh

Mr. Jimmy Singh is the Principal Lawyer at Criminal Defence Lawyers Australia - Leading Criminal Lawyers in Sydney, Delivering Exceptional Results in all Australian Criminal Courts.

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