Knobbles and curves are back for fruit and veg

Curvy cucumbers and knobbly carrots return to supermarket shelves tomorrow thanks to the abolition of EU rules on the size and shape of 36 types of fruit and veg.





For 20 years EU-wide marketing standards have ensured that only the finest-looking produce reaches the shops.

But to reduce red tape and bureaucracy - and make cheaper fruit and veg available as household bills rise - Eurocrats are lifting unnecessary restrictions.

Until now the standards have discriminated against irregular-looking produce, from apricots to watermelons.

From tomorrow the rules disappear altogether for 26 items on the list, including artichokes, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, cucumbers, onions, peas, carrots, plums, and ribbed celery.

Ten other products which account for 75% of EU fruit and veg trade, including apples, strawberries and tomatoes, can also be sold regardless of size and shape, as long as they are labelled as "intended for processing", or equivalent wording.

The Commission said today the move was a major element in its continuing efforts to streamline and simplify EU rules.

"This is a concrete example of our drive to cut unnecessary red tape," said EU Agriculture Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel.

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

She went on: "The changes also mean that consumers will 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' size and shape."

The rules banishing irregular produce were originally asked for by the fruit and veg industry, to ensure consistent quality. The Commission responded by basing EU rules on international standards applied for decades by a United Nations committee.

But, as one Commission official put it last year during negotiations on reform: "Times have changed: now household budgets are tighter and there is the problem of wasting food too, so it makes more sense than ever to allow people to buy wonky fruit and veg if they wish."

Retailers have estimated the mis-shapen produce could be sold as much as 40% cheaper than the current "class one" goods.

The new rules won't put paid to eurosceptic quips about bendy bananas however - because banana standards are governed by a different set of EU rules and aren't covered by the Common Market Organisation for fruit and vegetables. Besides, said one EU official, bananas are supposed to be bendy, unlike cucumbers.

The full list of mis-shapen fruit and veg on sale from tomorrow:

26 items (restrictions on shape and size repealed without qualification) - apricots, artichokes, asparagus, aubergines, avocados, beans, Brussels sprouts, carrots, cauliflower, 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.

10 items (restrictions lifted subject to labelling to distinguish them from "class 1" produce) - apples, citrus fruit, kiwi fruit, lettuces, peaches/nectarines, pears, strawberries, sweet peppers, table grapes and tomatoes.



Tesco spokesman Adam Fisher said: "We welcome this move and it's not before time. We look forward to selling curly cucumbers and knobbly carrots while ensuring the quality of our ranges isn't compromised."



Lucy Maclennan, Sainsbury's produce technical manager, said the supermarket had lobbied against the EU fruit and vegetable regulations in November.

"We are delighted to have played a part in winning the wonky veg war against these bonkers EU regulations," she said.

"We hope that, by being able to sell more wonky fruit and veg, we can help cash-strapped Britons save even more on their weekly shop and help farmers use more of their crop."



Lorraine Wheaton, head of category planning for produce at Asda, said: "At Asda we hate to see perfectly good food go to waste and, where possible, we use the ugly fruit and vegetables in some of our prepared foods to eliminate waste.

"The relaxation of the laws mean that we can bring in more fruit and vegetables which, in return, means cheaper prices for customers."

She added: "Currently fruit and vegetables are classed according to their looks. Customers are paying through the roof for a class 1 onion when a class 2 onion is just as good, especially if they both end up in your spaghetti Bolognese."



Lorraine Wheaton, head of category planning for produce at Asda, said: "At Asda we hate to see perfectly good food go to waste and, where possible, we use the ugly fruit and vegetables in some of our prepared foods to eliminate waste.

"The relaxation of the laws mean that we can bring in more fruit and vegetables which, in return, means cheaper prices for customers."

She added: "Currently fruit and vegetables are classed according to their looks. Customers are paying through the roof for a class 1 onion when a class 2 onion is just as good, especially if they both end up in your spaghetti Bolognese."



Simon Wilson, a spokesman for Lidl, the budget supermarket chain, said: "We support this move as it will enable us to offer even more quality fruit and veg at the lowest prices to customers looking for exceptional value.

"It is also good news for producers as they can reduce waste of perfectly good fruit and veg and sell more of their crop."



Mark Pinnes, head of media relations for Morrisons, said they were hardly affected by the EU legislation as they grow most of their produce.

He said: "Maybe now other supermarkets can catch up with Morrisons and buy the whole crop from farmers, something we have always been able to do as we make so much fresh food ourselves.

"If you were to break off our food manufacturing business, it would be the fifth biggest in the country."

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