In Britain’s popular culture the marketing restrictions on bendy bananas and curly cucumbers have always been associated with the Bureaucrats of Brussels. Nothing so well underpinned a public perception of meddling officials in a foreign country imposing their will on a hapless populace by setting fruit and veg dimensions by millimetre and by degree. The story was always guaranteed to provoke a curious mixture of exasperation and delight.
The Commission has now announced a relaxation of the EU rules. As from July 2009 the EU standards for 26 fruit and vegetable categories will be abandoned altogether and for the 10 most widely purchased, such as apples, strawberries and tomatoes, national governments will be free to permit the public sale of non-classified produce as long as it is labelled as for jam-making or similar.
I suspect that in many cases it is national governments which displayed the real passion for regulating. It’s worth recalling that a year ago Commissioner Verheugen dismissed the idea that the use of imperial measures (pounds and ounces for instance) was illegal under EU law, but this didn’t stop the criminal prosecution of some market traders in Britain for using the old measures.
Certainly past experience suggests that the supermarkets will continue to demand uniformity and quality when negotiating with their suppliers. But at least there should be no more martyrs such as those shopkeepers who did not abide by the rules and were prosecuted in consequence.
The Agriculture Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel takes credit for the latest moves, but this decision is very much in tune with the campaign for Better Regulation which the Barroso Commission has been pursuing. Its main front-man Commissioner Verheugen is still pushing hard, as you can see from his recent speech. All strength to his elbow!