Up to now, European marketing standards have ensured for 20 years that only the most standard-looking produce reaches supermarket shelves.
In all, marketing standards for 26 fruits and vegetables are being removed, paving the way for the return to shopping trolleys of forked carrots, onions that are less than two-thirds covered with skin and the bent cucumbers among other blemished vegetables.
The rules had been derided as “bonkers” by the likes of major British supermarket chain Sainsbury’s, while major agricultural nations such as France have argued that scrapping the restrictions will lead to a fall in prices and thereby hit farmers.
“It’s a concrete example of our drive to cut unnecessary red tape. We simply don’t need to regulate this sort of thing at EU level. It is far better to leave it to market operators,” said Mariann Fischer Boel, the EU agriculture commissioner.
She said that in the current climate of high food prices and economic woes “consumers should be able to choose from the widest range of products possible. It makes no sense to throw perfectly good products away, just because they are the ‘wrong’ shape”.
Representatives of most EU countries voted against the rule change, but not by the overwhelming “qualified majority” required to stop it going through, a commission spokesman said.
The rules are to be removed for apricots, artichokes, asparagus, aubergines, avocados, beans, brussels sprouts, carrots, cauliflowers, cherries, courgettes, cucumbers, cultivated mushrooms, garlic, hazelnuts in shell, headed cabbage, leeks, melons, onions, peas, plums, ribbed celery, spinach, walnuts in shell, water melons, and chicory.
Standards are kept in place for ten others, including several of the most popular items in European kitchens: apples, citrus fruit, kiwi fruit, lettuces, peaches and nectarines, pears, strawberries, sweet peppers, table grapes and tomatoes.
Mann said that these were being maintained as a compromise to opposed member states, while assuring that there was “practically no difference” between the two categories.
Vendors will be able to sell blemished versions of the still proscribed items as long as they are labelled as a “product intended for processing” or similar.
The European commission, the EU’s executive arm, must formally adopt the changes which, “for practical reasons”, will be implemented from next July.
Rules for bananas, mainly grown outside the EU, are not affected as they are covered by different legislation.