Back in November 2008 I published a post celebrating Victory For The Different! After years of massive food waste, the European Commission had at last agreed to abandon the laws that dictated the look of Europe's fruit and vegetables. For the previous two decades, EU legislation had meant that greengrocery which failed to meet the "perfect profile" in terms of shape, size and absence of blemishes could not be sold for direct consumption. Wonky cucumbers and comedy carrots were outlawed and only perfect-looking produce could be found on supermarket shelves. One of the first challenges to the law came from Waitrose, when in 2007 they introduced Class II produce, offering ugly fruit to their eco-conscious customers. A year later the EU caved in to pressure from the green lobby and we celebrated a wonderful victory for ugly fruit, sexy vegetables and non-conformist people.
Fifteen months later and the protectionist farmers are back. Greater availability of food and the introduction of new competition into the expanded European markets had resulted in significant price reductions during the intervening period... and the French, Spanish and Hungarians are not happy about it. Their massive agro-industrial producers could afford the physical handling and computer-aided sorting equipment necessary to manage compliance with the EU legislation, whereas the smaller local growers couldn't afford to go down that path. The ending of the 'ugly fruit ban' meant that the market dominance of the few was challenged and the consumer benefitted hugely as a result. But a few days ago, led by Spanish MEPs, the European Parliament's Agriculture Committee voted to bring the ban back.
The proposed re-introduction will now go before the European Parliament where, hopefully, it will be thrown out. "Food is food, no matter what it looks like", said Timothy Kirkhope, Conservative MEP for Yorkshire and the Humber. "To try to stop stores selling perfectly decent food simply because of its shape or size is morally unjustifiable, especially when we are worried about global food supplies and still in the mouth of an economic downturn." His colleague Richard Ashworth MEP described the Spanish-led move as "nonsensical" and UKIP Euro-MP Stuart Agnew said: "They are crackers."
When the debate first started back in the 1970s after the establishment of the European Community, the tabloid newspapers revelled in stories about rules defining the shape and size of bananas, which became an iconic target for eurosceptic fun in the years to follow. Ironically, however, bananas are one item of produce that has never been covered by the legislation, being covered by other laws. But the papers were never going to let the truth get in the way of a good story. And with the picture above, neither am I.
Thanks to -eko- for the Magritte-inspired banana photo.