Disappointment At Agricultural Product Quality Missed Opportunity

23 February 2010
Scottish MEP Alyn Smith, full member of the European Parliament's powerful Agriculture Committee, has today expressed his disappointment at the committee's vote on a quality policy report.

The report calls for the reintroduction of marketing rules in the fruit and vegetables sector which provide for "uniform standardisation parameters" i.e. the banning of odd-shaped fruits and vegetables. These controversial and unpopular rules were only dismantled by the Commission last year.

In addition, the vote failed to call for mandatory place of origin labelling, but merely voluntary "on a case by case basis"; provides for an "EU quality label" which farmers organisations say will provide no added benefits for consumers and would merely add extra red tape; and expresses disdain for valuable private certification schemes like the Red Tractor.

Commenting after the vote, Smith said:

"It is just plain odd that the "wonky fruit" issue simply refuses to go away. It was a great triumph for common sense when the Commission swept away these unnecessary rules last year, so for the Agriculture Committee unilaterally to raise the subject again is worrying. I will certainly do all I can to fight any proposal that comes forward for the reintroduction of these marketing standards.

"More broadly, I think this vote was a missed opportunity to push the case for mandatory place of origin labelling. Instead, the big groups came up with a "lowest common denominator" formula which is deeply unsatisfying and which will fail to do the job of informing consumers. I certainly hope that the Food Information for Consumers legislation does a better job in this area.

"I also found worrying the committee's bias against private certification schemes and private, voluntary marketing standards. Though, of course, these must not conflict with mandatory standards, I feel that anything stakeholders can do improve consumer information should be encouraged.

"Though there were some positive aspects to this vote, such as the guarantee for the PDO and PGI schemes, and a firm statement that quality schemes should be kept separate from trademarks, I think this was a big step backwards, not forwards."