Bonkers EU rules banning less than perfectly-shaped fruit and vegetables could be coming back to haunt us.
Last July (2009) we thought we'd seen the last of a regulation that's been a 20-year source of media mirth and mockery when the EU overturned its ban on more than 30 species of wonky fruit and veg.
But no, six months on the Eurocrats have caved in and agreed to consider bringing back the ban on misshapen fruit and vegetables following pressure from Spain, with potential backing from Italy, France and Hungary who had all objected to its being lifted last year.
The push to reintroduce the ban has a lot to do with the four trying to protect their domestic food markets and their export revenues. That may be an understandable response during a global economic crisis of the current magnitude.
Does it make sense at a time of growing global food scarcity for the EU to be seriously considering banning perfectly safe fruit and vegetables - merely because a cucumber doesn't have a perfect curve or a carrot has a small carbuncle?
It seems not to have been a consideration that the rule change is thought to have reduced waste and cut food prices by as much as 40 per cent. Nor, apparently, was it relevant that it could also have saved the UK's fresh produce industry an estimated £250,000 a year in admin costs, which would ultimately benefit consumers' pockets.
For once the UK seems to be the voice of sanity in this discussion. Nigel Jenney, CEO of the Food Produce Consortium said: "We would reject a ban on misshapen fruit and vegetables here in the UK. The UK fresh produce industry has taken advantage of a more flexible approach, to the benefit of consumers, especially during these frugal times."
Do we really care about wonky fruit and veg?
Did anyone bother to ask cash-strapped shoppers whether, in the midst of a global recession, they appreciated the opportunity of being able to buy misshapes at greatly reduced prices, thus giving them the option of continuing to buy healthy natural ingredients rather than supposedly cheaper processed products?
Surely what is most important to anyone wanting to do their best for their family is that the food they buy in the weekly shop is affordable, healthy and above all as safe to eat as possible.
Another element of last July's EU updated Regulation update could be far more significant than arguments about wonky vegetables.
It imposes tighter controls on imports of "certain feed and food of non-animal origin" from countries outside the EU because of the risk they contain banned chemical agro-products.
Among the produce listed in the regulations** are: groundnuts (peanuts) from Argentina, various spices from India, Basmati Rice from Pakistan and India all vulnerable to contamination with Aflatoxins, naturally occurring toxins produced by fungi and in high quantities can cause diseases of the liver. The list also includes Bananas from the Dominican Republic (various traces) and fresh, chilled or frozen Vegetables, (peppers, courgettes and tomatoes) from Turkey (highly toxic chemical pesticides: methomyl and oxamyl)
(** EC Regulation 669/22009)
The UK's Food Standards Agency is currently consulting on the regulations - causing a delay that is having a devastating impact on importers accorting to Nigel Jenney.
But from the consumer perspective surely we should welcome anything that helps protect us from exposure to high-chem pesticides in our food.
If, at the same time, the tighter import restrictions encourage overseas producers to switch to low-chem "bio-pesticides" which are created from natural sources, biodegrade quicker, leave fewer traces in produce and target specific pests, unlike the earlier wide-spectrum chemical pesticides that attacked friend, foe, soil and water alike then surely both producers, consumers and the world's soil and water resources will benefit.
Copyright (c) 2010 Alison Withers
EU legislators may re-introduce a ban on misshapen fruit and veg six months after it was removed. There's evidence that its removal cut waste and costs and helped recession hit consumers during the global recession. Ali Withers asks whether this is a priority issue compared with speeding up licensing of safer low-chem agricultural products in the EU and encouraging their use globally.