Bendy cucumbers, strange leeks return to EU shops

Tue Jun 30, 2009 7:26am EDT
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By Jeremy Smith

BRUSSELS (Reuters Life!) - Bendy cucumbers, strangely shaped turnips and carrots. The stuff of EU myth and legend returns to real shops this week. All those wonky fruit and curiously sized vegetables will be back on supermarket shelves from July 1 after the European Union scrapped longstanding rules that control minimum size and shape standards for household fruit and vegetables.

EU marketing standards are standard fodder for one of the most popular jibes about EU over-regulation, where desk-bound European Commission bureaucrats are portrayed as zealous to set permitted sizes, lengths and "bendiness" for farm produce.

Now, the Commission has sliced through the red tape to get rid of what it calls "unnecessary marketing standards."

"July 1st marks the return to our shelves of the curved cucumber and the knobbly carrot," EU Agriculture Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel said.

"More seriously, this is a concrete example of our drive to cut unnecessary red tape. We don't need to regulate this sort of thing at EU level ... It makes no sense to throw perfectly good products away just because they are the 'wrong' size and shape."

EU rules defining minimum shapes and sizes will be repealed for 26 fruits and vegetables -- including apricots, aubergines, cherries, garlic, leeks, peas, spinach and watermelons.

Ten standards will remain, including those for apples, citrus fruit, kiwi, peaches, pears, table grapes and tomatoes. Those 10 account for three-quarters of the value of EU cross-border fruit and vegetable trade. But even for these 10 categories, countries will be able to allow shops -- for the first time -- to sell products that do not meet the EU standards, provided they are labeled to set them apart from 'extra', 'class I' and 'class II' fruit.

"In other words, the new rules will allow national authorities to permit the sale of all fruit and vegetables, regardless of their size and shape," the Commission said.

(Editing by Paul Casciato)