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April 27, 2004

The EU and Tomatoes

I was roaming round the blogophere and came across this piece by Virginia Postrel. All about grape tomatoes, their rapid emergence over the past two years in the US, and the derring do, innovation and as she says :

The story has all the elements of a contemporary business yarn--globalization, intellectual property disputes, secretive business deals--but no new-fangled biotech.

Yum yum I thought, sweet bite sized tomatoes. Haven't seen those here in Portugal yet but maybe there'll be some at a specialist supplier. A little checking brought no joy, so I logged on to Tesco.com which has about the same share of the market in the UK as WalMart does in the US, round about 8 %. It's one of the oddities of modern life that the British, mocked and vilified for centuries for bland even awful food now have one of the best selections anywhere in the world. A recent example of this was Tesco quoted as selling 20 different varieties of tomato, so I thought they must sell this new All Star hit.
Well, no. They don't. Cherry, Beefsteak, on the vine, loose and so on , but none of these grape tomatoes.
A day or so later I found out why. It would be illegal. Yes, according to the European Union, the sale of grape tomatoes is illegal.
As I'm a good clean living sort of chap I don't use drugs to cure my insomnia. A quick perusal of Common Regulations normally does it for me. While hoping for sleep one night I came across this one :
Commission Regulation (EC) No 790/2000 of 14 April 2000 laying down the marketing standard for tomatoes
and its counterpart, this one .
They're pretty much the same document, laying down the regulations for what is legal to sell as a tomato in the European Union. Yes indeedy, our Lords and Masters are so solicitous of our health and wealth that they have provided us with a criminal law system which defines not only what is and is not an acceptable tomato as to rotteness, but also as to breed and size. You might blanch at calling it criminal law, but to breach these regulations is a criminal, not civil offense. The idea that consumers and producers might take part in voluntary exchange seems not to occur to them.
It should also be noted that this regulation is an alteration to an earlier one. Because first time round they had forgotten to include cherry tomatoes.

This standard applies to tomatoes of the varieties (cultivars) grown from Lycopersicon lycopersicum (L.) Karsten ex Farw./Lycopersicon esculentum Mill. to be supplied fresh to the consumer, tomatoes for industrial processing being excluded.
Tomatoes may be classified in four commercial types:
- "round",
- "ribbed",
- "oblong" or "elongated",
- "cherry" tomatoes (including "cocktail" tomatoes).

See, no knowledge of grape tomatoes. Not too surprising as it was published in 2000, before they became so popular in the US. But it does mean that it is illegal to sell them in the EU. As they're not mentioned, you can't have them.

Size is determined by the maximum diameter of the equatorial section. The following provisions shall not apply to "cherry" tomatoes. A. Minimum size For tomatoes classified in the "Extra" Class and Classes I and II, the minimum size is set at: - 35 mm for "round" and "ribbed" tomatoes, - 30 mm for "oblong" tomatoes. B. Sizing scale The tomatoes are graded according to the following sizing scale: - 30 mm and over but under 35 mm(1), - 35 mm and over but under 40 mm, - 40 mm and over but under 47 mm, - 47 mm and over but under 57 mm, - 57 mm and over but under 67 mm, - 67 mm and over but under 82 mm, - 82 mm and over but under 102 mm, - 102 mm and over. Observance of the sizing scale is compulsory for "Extra" Class and Class I tomatoes. The sizing scale does not apply to trusses of tomatoes.

Yes, we are also protected from acquiring undersized tomatoes. And here we have a second reason why grape tomatoes are illegal. They're too small ( freedom from size limits is only for cherry tomatoes or those in trusses ) and they are not sold in trusses.
So we first have the absurdity of continent wide regulations upon what is and is not a legal tomato. That's enough to justify a bonfire of bureaucrats. We also have, secondly, enough to justify an all out war on the Eurocrats. For the other part of Virginia's article shows that they are also raging hypocrites as they blather about dynamic and modern economies.

Grapes "have killed the cherry tomato business," says Charles Lester, produce buyer for Giant Food, who added that the chain "very seldom" carries cherry tomatoes anymore. They're "quickly becoming the tomato of choice," says Craig Muckle, spokesman for Safeway, which sells 10 times more grape than cherry tomatoes..
.. So there we have it, in the 4 years since the EU last passed a regulation about tomatoes, a completely new type has arisen which virtually wipes out the type they last amended the regulation for. Wouldn't it be simpler simply not to have the regulation ? Or we could continue to change the regulations I suppose, as new technologies, types, breeds come along. Sure. First, hire your Brussels lobbyist, then fight through the bureaucracy, get the item onto the agenda, hope that no one objects at the Farm Minister's meeting ( and you can bet that if France has a large cherry tomato growing industry they will ) and then a new regulation is passed : some years and millions of euros later, for a tomato for the Lord's sake! What really gets my goat, has me hammering on the table and frothing at the mouth is that these are the same bunch of lunatics who signed this :
The Lisbon Strategy is a commitment to bring about economic, social and environmental renewal in the EU. In March 2000, the European Council in Lisbon set out a ten-year strategy to make the EU the world's most dynamic and competitive economy.

Yes ! The inmates actually believe that the way to make the world's most dynamic economy is to force a farmer to go cap in hand to Brussels to test grow a new type of tomato, one that is a roaring success in the rest of the world. This idiocy is repeated in everything that the EU does or touches.

We have two choices. One is to leave and let the rest of them sink into the penury and irrelevance that will be the inevitable outcome. The second is to conduct class warfare. A slightly Marxist thought for a libertarian, but catching, gralloching and cooking these morons is the only other way. I offer to smuggle in the grape tomatoes for the garnish.

April 27, 2004 in European Union | Permalink

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» If we hadn't thought about it, it should be illegal from AnarCapLib
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Tracked on Apr 28, 2004 9:23:53 AM

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Comments

In the US we had a big political todo years ago wherein Congress had to step in to decide whether to classify the tomato as either a fruit or vegetable. Turns out this was a huge deal for tariffs. Most people observing it from outside see it more like an episode of Seinfeld. I'm sorry to hear that you're missing out on the wonders of miniature produce, their really useful for recipes where a cherry tomato is to large a chunk but you want to retain the integrity of the tomato in the dish rather than cut a larger one into messy pieces.

Posted by: Kevin | Apr 27, 2004 10:49:13 PM

Next time you've got insomnia, maybe you could breeze through the EU regs to see if that's why we can't get those bags of prewashed baby carrots around here, either.

Posted by: Kat | Apr 28, 2004 12:10:21 PM

Kat, try Jumbo, above the mushrooms. Think I've seen them there.

Posted by: Tim Worstall | Apr 28, 2004 1:16:05 PM

Dear me! I'm so sorry you can't get grape tomatoes. They're delicious.

A friend told me that the little bags of prewashed baby carrots are actually mechanically lathed out of larger carrots. That would tend to explain why they're so uniform, and so continuously available.

Posted by: Teresa Nielsen Hayden | May 4, 2004 5:28:26 AM

I stumbled across your blog while I was doing some online research. Who knew that the lowly grape tomato could be so nefarious? Here I thought it was just a fruit disguised as a vegetable.

Posted by: panasianbiz | Jul 24, 2006 9:20:04 PM