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Europeans buying year-old apples

By Leah Vyse , 13-Dec-2005

The apple market has suffered another bruising following revelations in the UK press that apples sold throughout Europe may be up to a year old.

As the market struggles to deal with oversupply problems a rise in consumer fears is now likely after The Times newspaper reported that apples are being sprayed with a chemical which enables them to be stored for up to a year before being sold to the public.

The chemical being used is 1-methylcyclopropene (1-MCP), sold as SmartFresh. It works through inhibiting the production of ethylene, a natural ripening agent that softens the fruit.

It was approved for use in the European Union earlier this year despite findings that very low levels of impurities in the compound have been shown to be carcinogenic in animals.

Sainsbury's, which is currently looking to take over Asda's position as the UK's second largest retailer, admitted to spraying some of its apples with the chemical to improve quality and return for suppliers and growers.

This exposure is the latest setback for the troubled international apple market, which is currently experiencing surplus stocks problems.

Karl Schmitz, managing director of Germany's federal union of fruit and vegetable producers, recently blamed SmartFresh for needlessly extending the apple season.

He said: "The carryover of apples on the market does not help anybody. From July to September this year, there were the same varieties available from three seasons: the 'old' 2004 European crop; the 2005 southern hemisphere crop; and the new northern hemisphere crop, all of similar quality."

"In this situation, everyone loses, from the grower to the consumer, and figures show that consumers do not eat more apples because they are cheaper."

Schmitz claims Russian import bans and an underestimation of Europe's crop volumes have been fundamental to the current oversupply of apples in western European markets.

The European Commission will meet with a consultative committee in Brussels next week do discuss possible measures to tackle the serious oversupply problems for Europe's number one fruit import.

Schmitz told FoodandDrinkEurope.com "The Commission is keen to hear what apple importers, consumers and traders think."

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