Thursday, November 20, 2008

The political economy of cucumber curvature

A lot of people have heard about the EU's ridiculous restrictions on selling misshapen fruits and vegetables, recently in the news because many of the rules were relaxed. But just today, after years of having read probably a dozen stories on the matter, I finally found the first real analysis of why the rules were enacted in the first place. The Christian Science Monitor reports:

Farmers in sun-challenged Britain and other growers across northern Europe have protested for years against the regulations, claiming the standards force them to waste more than 20 percent of their crops. [...]

The decision to relax most of the rules drew strong criticism from farmers in Spain and Italy, who, with help from the Mediterranean sun, pride themselves on the production of the continent's most geometrically perfect fruits and vegetables. The farmers fear the change opens the door to competition from less scrupulous growers outside Europe, namely places where labor is cheap.

That 20% figure seems suspiciously high, though I'm not an agronomist – but if it's true, then that's a serious trade barrier that's just been lifted. It's ironic (but all too predictable) that the EU, an organization designed primarily to foster free trade among members, would foist this protectionist regulation on members whose national legislatures had not adopted it.

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