Page last updated at 16:10 GMT, Wednesday, 12 November 2008

EU slices up 'ugly fruit' rules

Supermarket peppers (file pic)
Fruit and vegetables have to comply with detailed EU rules

The European Commission has scrapped controversial rules that prevent oddly-sized or misshapen fruit and vegetables being sold in Europe.

The EU's agriculture commissioner called it "a new dawn for the curvy cucumber and the knobbly carrot".

Marketing standards for 26 types of produce were scrapped, in a drive to cut bureaucracy.

The rules were introduced to ensure common EU standards, but are regarded by critics as examples of Euro-madness.

Some 20% of produce is rejected by shops across the EU because it fails to meet the current requirements.

'Good news'

The Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, Mariann Fischer Boel, said Wednesday's vote by the EU's fruit and vegetable management committee was "a concrete example of our drive to cut unnecessary red tape".

Rules designed to enforce a uniform common market aren't exactly the EU's thing any more
BBC Europe editor Mark Mardell

"We simply don't need to regulate this sort of thing at EU level. It is far better to leave it to market operators," she said.

The 26 types are: apricots, artichokes, asparagus, aubergines, avocadoes, beans, Brussels sprouts, carrots, cauliflowers, cherries, courgettes, cucumbers, cultivated mushrooms, garlic, hazelnuts in shell, headed cabbage, leeks, melons, onions, peas, plums, ribbed celery, spinach, walnuts in shell, water melons and witloof/chicory.

The rules will remain unchanged for another 10 types of produce, which account for 75% of EU fruit and vegetable trade: apples, citrus fruit, kiwi fruit, lettuces, peaches and nectarines, pears, strawberries, sweet peppers, table grapes and tomatoes.

However, the commission says shops will be allowed to sell these products provided they are labelled appropriately. So an apple which does not meet the standard could still be sold, as long as it were labelled "product intended for processing" or equivalent wording, the commission says.

I appreciate the theory of this type of thing but surely there are greater issues for the organisation?
Richard, Brimingham

The new rules are expected to come into force on 1 July 2009.

In an interview with the BBC's Newshour programme, the agriculture commissioner's spokesman Michael Mann said: "I have spent the last four years dealing with headlines about bendy cucumbers and oversized, undersized kiwi fruits and God knows what.

"So, yes it has been a cause of much criticism towards the European Union, and let's be frank, that is also a factor in why we are getting rid of it."

A spokesman for the UK's Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) welcomed the commission decision, saying "it is a sensible first step on the way to further streamlining of the regulations".

Over the years the commission's regulations on fruit and vegetables became more restrictive - until stories about straight bananas became part of European folklore, the BBC's Dominic Hughes in Brussels says.

He adds that it should be good news for hard-pressed consumers who will see cheaper - if slightly misshapen - vegetables appearing in the shops.

Neil Parish, a Conservative MEP and chairman of the European Parliament's agriculture committee, said: "Food is food, no matter what it looks like.

"To stop stores selling perfectly decent food during a food crisis is morally unjustifiable. Consumers care about the taste and quality of food, not how it looks."

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