Imperfection Appreciated

It’s a new day for Europe’s huddled masses of non-uniform produce. Yesterday, the European Union announced it will ease shape and size restrictions on 26 fruits and vegetables, listed here.

photo by transguyjay via Creative CommonsFrom Milan to Minsk Madrid, curvy cucumbers and asymmetrical asparagus are dancing in the streets.

Whether they’re classified as imperfect, too big, too small, different or just plain ugly–these fruits and vegetables are still edible. With the undoing of the controversial rules, plenty of produce will be saved from unnecessary squandering and prices should decline.

And it’s high time. The EU said they were removing the four-year-old rules because they were too bureaucratic. And specific!: European cucumbers can’t bend more than 0.39 inches for every 3.94 inches of length.

Not surprisingly, retailers are pleased. Here’s Sue Henderson, a senior executive at UK retailer Sainsbury’s:

We have been struggling to fit a square peg in a round hole for too long now. We’re not allowed to use up to 20 per cent of what’s produced in this country and in the current climate of the credit crunch, we cannot continue to waste this much food before it even leaves the farms.

But hold the confetti. Restrictions remain for 10 items, including apples, tomatoes and peppers. Unfortunately, those items comprise 75 percent of European produce. Oh, and the restrictions won’t be removed until July.

Then again, retailers can sell non-uniform versions of these items–apples, citrus fruit, kiwi fruit, lettuces, peaches and nectarines, pears, strawberries, sweet peppers, table grapes and tomatoes–as long as they’re labeled “product intended for processing.”

Yeah, that’s not bureaucratic or anything. I wonder if shoppers buying them have to wear a sticker saying “purchaser of product intended for processing.”

Note: See comments for discussion of U.S. standards.

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