Ugly and misshapen fruit and vegetables are to be permitted for sale in Europe for the first time – but equal rights are still a dream for many grocery items covered by separate regulations.
The European Commission (EC) has torn up its much-maligned 100-page document providing legislation on the shape, size and texture of fruit and vegetables, meaning that from 1st July 2009 consumers will be able to purchase 26 items, including onions, apricots, Brussels sprouts, watermelons and cauliflowers with as many knobs, bumps and curves as they like.
“This marks a new dawn for the curvy cucumber and the knobbly carrot,” said Mariann Fischer Boel, Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development at the EC. “In these days of high food prices and general economic difficulties, consumers should be able to choose from the widest range of products possible. It makes no sense to throw perfectly good products away, just because they are the wrong shape.”
A further ten items, including tomatoes, lettuces and endives, lemons, limes and apples, will still be covered by the regulations. However, EU member states will be free to allow shops to sell them as long as they are labelled with words to the effect of ‘product intended for processing’.
These ten products account for 75 per cent of the value of fruit and veg trade in the EU.
FoodNavigator.com has learned that the continued segregation of deformed citrus fruits was a compromise reached by the EC in order to avoid a qualified majority of votes against deregulation.
16 of the 27 member states – including France, Spain and Italy – voted against the move.
Peka Pesonen, secretary general of Copa and Cogeca, which represents farmers and agricultural cooperatives in Europe, said that the move ignored the interests of the European fruit and vegetables sector.
“The use of objective parameters such as size and uniformity helps put a clear and univocal price on each quality, at both the producer and consumer level,” she said. “We fear that the absence of EU standards will lead member states to establish national standards and that private standards will proliferate, which will only hamper the smooth running of the single market and hinder simplification.”
The EC has been criticised in the past for over-regulation of foodstuffs. “[This is] a concrete example of our drive to cut red tape,” said Fischer Boel. “We simply don’t need to regulate this sort of thing at EU level.”
The decision has been welcomed by many in the food industry. A spokesperson for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said, “Defra welcomes this decision. It is a sensible first step on the way to further streamlining of the regulations.”
Tim Down, a fruit and veg wholesaler from Bristol, UK, was outraged in June when he was forced to throw away 520 Chilean kiwis after being told by the Rural Payments Agency that they did not meet industry standards.
Some of the kiwis weighed up to four grams less than the stipulated 62g.
“Standards are necessary,” Down told FoodNavigator.com, “but they have to be implemented in a sensible way.”
“How anyone ever sat down in an office in Brussels and got paid an enormous amount of money to decide on the correct curvature of a cucumber beggars belief.”
Commission Regulation (EC) No. 1677/88 previously stated that Class I and Extra Class cucumbers were allowed a bend of 10mm per 10cm of length, with Class II cucumbers being allowed twice as much bend.
From next year, though, even bent cucumbers will be allowed into Europe.
However, we will not be seeing abnormal bananas just yet. One famous regulation, (EC) No. 2257/94, which states that bananas must be “free from abnormal curvature of the fingers”, is to remain.
“This is a step in the right direction,” said Michael Mann, the EC’s agriculture spokesperson, told FoodNavigator.com. “Perhaps we will come back to bananas in the future.”