By Michael Doran

State Opposition Leader Matthew Guy offered his support to Yarra Valley strawberry farmers and pledged a bi-partisan approach to the crisis facing the industry.

“I am here to support you as our local fruit growers and to work with you in a non-political way through this issue,” he told them at a meeting in Seville on Wednesday 19 September.

“I intend to introduce a new offence in the Crimes Act, carrying a mandatory three-year minimum jail term for anyone caught contaminating your fruit.”

“I will work with the current government to get this done in this session of Parliament and I’m prepared to sit in Parliament for as long as it takes to get this passed into law.”

With Parliament due to go into recess on Thursday 20 September time is in short supply for changes to be made.

“We will also support the current government in putting together assistance packages for the industry and to give the communities of the Yarra Valley a bi-partisan approach,” Mr Guy said.

“My focus is to stand shoulder to shoulder with you in this difficult time and support you, your families and the local communities, not scoring political points.”

About 40 growers attended the meeting, including Strawberry Growers Association members.

It followed authorities revealing on 13 September that consumers had found sewing needles inside strawberries grown in Queensland stocked in supermarkets across the country.

They covered the walls with butcher’s paper scrawled with ideas on how to respond to the crisis and it was clear all were getting involved in the recovery planning.

Their crop is due to go to market in October and the growers’ message was to “keep eating strawberries but just dice them up” after washing.

Two other local Liberal Party candidates, John Schurink for Monbulk and Bridget Vallence for Evelyn, were also at the meeting and offered their support to the berry farmers.

“The strawberry industry is a big part of our local economy, producing world-class fruit for both domestic and export markets,” Ms Vallence said.

“We are determined to support these local businesses and at the same time protect consumers, and that’s why we need stronger deterrents as Matthew has announced.”

While the growers’ meeting was held behind closed doors, it showed just how concerned local strawberry producers were with all the negative publicity the industry has been receiving.

Some of those attending were investigating adding more bio-security but as they pointed out, packaged strawberry punnets pass through a lot of hands after they leave the farm.

With television news reports showing mounds of strawberries being dumped, a new slogan has appeared that sums up the growers; mantra: “Cut it up, don’t cut it out.”

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