BRUSSELS (Reuters Life!) - Misshapen fruit and vegetables may be sold across the European Union from next year after member states voted on Wednesday to scrap the bloc's much-maligned standards for size and shape.
Bent cucumbers, nobbly carrots and undersized melons can be sold by retailers from next July following the approval of proposals by the EU's farm chief to ditch EU marketing standards which set permitted sizes, lengths and "bendiness" for produce.
"This marks a new dawn for the curvy cucumber and the nobbly carrot," EU Agriculture Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel said in a statement.
She hopes the move will help end years of jibes about EU over-regulation in which European Commission bureaucrats are portrayed as over-zealous, and at the same time provide more affordable fruit and vegetables amid high food prices.
"We simply don't need to regulate this sort of thing at EU level. It is far better to leave it to market operators," the commissioner said.
"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."
Wednesday's vote means an end to minimum shapes and sizes for 26 fruits and vegetables, such as aubergines and apricots, cherries, garlic, leeks, peas, spinach and watermelons.
But 10 standards will remain, including those for apples, citrus fruit, peaches, pears and tomatoes. The 10 categories account for three-quarters of EU cross-border fruit and vegetable trade.
However, governments could let shops sell these 10 products as long as they are labeled properly. For example, an apple not meeting the standard may still be sold as long as it is labeled "product intended for processing" or equivalent wording.
Reporting by Darren Ennis, editing by Paul Casciato