Euro MPs fight to restore wonky fruit ban

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The Independent Online

Euro-MPs went bananas today - voting to a restore a European ban on the sale of wonky fruit and veg.

The much-condemned ban was lifted by the European Commission last July, ending food waste by cutting red tape surrounding the shape and uniformity of fresh produce. The move also cut retail prices by as much as 40 per cent in some cases.

But Spanish MEPs tabled a plan to bring the ban back - and this afternoon they won the support of a majority on the European Parliament's Agriculture Committee.

The issue now goes to the full Parliament for a vote and, although it is unlikely to be approved by EU ministers, the attempt was attacked as nonsensical by Tory MEP Richard Ashworth.

"Food is food, no matter what it looks like," he said.

"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."

He went on: "These rules should never have been in place at all and it was finally a dose of common sense when the Commission 'repeeled' them.

"For MEPs to now campaign to restore them really is beyond the pale and we will fight to stop this happening.

"Consumers care about the taste and quality of food and that it is safe, not how it looks."

Until the ban was lifted in July last year, EU rules dictated the shape and size of 36 varieties of produce, from apricots to watermelons, effectively banishing all but perfect specimens.

The then EU Agriculture Commissioner Marianne Fischer Boel trumpeted a rare popularity high point for eurocrats, declaring: "We simply don't need to regulate this sort of thing at EU level.

"It is far better to leave it to market operators - and 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."

Spanish MEPs, anxious to defend their domestic markets, disagree, and tabled their own amendments to a report on EU agriculture quality policy.

Last July's decision to lift the ban freed up the market for 26 sorts of fruit and veg including artichokes, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, cucumbers, onions, peas, carrots, plums, and ribbed celery.

Specific market rules stayed in place for the ten products which account for 75% of EU fruit and veg trade - apples, citrus fruit, kiwi fruit, lettuces, peaches/nectarines, pears, strawberries, sweet peppers, table grapes and tomatoes.

But it was left to national authorities to exempt even those ten from the rules on shape and size, as long as they are sold as "produce intended for processing" or something similar.

Bananas, a legendary target for eurosceptic fun over EU size and shape criteria, are not affected, as they come under a separate marketing regime.

The Spanish government was among a handful of protectionist countries which opposed the lifting of the 20-year-old ban last year. Others were Italy, France and Hungary, all wanting to keep the ban to ensure a level playing field for food quality.