Europeans to rethink fresh produce standards

EU regulators hope to consider ways to prevent “non-standard” farm produce like pockmarked carrots, dirty leeks and unripe apples from being thrown away – and sold to consumers instead.

The European Union has a raft of regulations to define farm products, setting down minimum standards, sizes and categories. Since a lot of produce taken from the fields doesn’t always meet strict EU criteria, it does not get publicly marketed or sold.

That applies in particular to perishable produce like fruit and vegetables, which may not be sold to consumers if they have gone off or are rotten, blemished, dirty, damaged by pests, underdeveloped or, in the case of fruit, not ripe enough.

Whi le the commission would prefer to see more of this kind of produce used in industrial processing, to make items like jam or preserves, much of it gets destroyed, officials say.

In a green paper authored by EU Agriculture Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel, the EU executive has opened a debate asking a series of questions on whether many existing rules on food quality and standards are justified or should continue.

While some EU marketing standards had been straightforward to develop, others had proved controversial, it said.

EU marketing standards are standard fodder for one of the most popular jibes about EU overregulation, where zealous Brussels bureaucrats are portrayed as wanting to set permitted sizes, lengths – and “bendiness” – for fruit and vegetables.

“In some cases, such as for fresh fruit and vegetables or poultry meat, marketing standards also set absolute stringent requirements for ‘sound, fair and marketable’ quality, which is a precondition for sale to consumers,” the paper said.

Since fresh fruit and vegetables were not allowed for sale to consumers if they failed to meet exacting criteria, including minimum sizes that indicated maturity, much was thrown away.

“This can lead to fruit and vegetables that are edible – safe to eat – being excluded from the fresh produce market and either used for processing or destroyed,” the paper said.

A key issue was whether the costs in terms of red tape were proportionate and whether applying the standards had “unwanted consequences such as inhibiting the marketing of innovative or uncommon products or the destruction of comestible produce.”

The green paper is the first step in a public consultation that should culminate in a conference early next year between the European Commission and representatives of all interested parties, including industry, consumers and NGOs. Proposals for legal changes to EU policy should follow later next year.

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