Tough times demand radical action. Unprecedented bank bail outs,
extraordinary financial stimulus and
historic electoral change have
defined these past few months, as countries across the world scramble to deal with the fall out from the financial crisis.
Now it is the EU's turn to be bold. In a radical break with convention, the EU will today try and abolish the regulations prescribing the size and shape of 26 types of fruit and vegetable. The move, intended not only to make food cheaper but also more 'fun', will reduce the waste previously caused by the dumping of 'imperfect' farm produce (which is often as much as 20 per cent of total produce).
The return of gnarled carrots and slightly blemished asparagus (currently banned if deemed to be less then 80 per cent 'green') would be a welcome development. The stringent and frankly ridiculous EU regulations on farm produce - designed and maintained solely to protect large continental farms by reducing supply and inflating prices - should go the way of Gordon's Brown's financial prudence, namely the bin. They embody the worst aspects of the European Union, crazily working against the average consumers interests. Any move that looked to dismantle such laws should be applauded.
But the organic champagne can stay on ice. Not only is this tranche of deregulation still liable to falter (the vote today will be tight, with French, Spanish and Italian farmers strongly opposed) but it is also very limited in its scope. Rules will remain in place for ten types of farm produce, which between them constitute over three quarters of all the fruit and vegetables sold in the EU. In other words, even if today's proposals pass they will still only affect a quarter of the fruit and veg sold in the EU. Apples, pears, citrus fruit, tomatoes and bananas will remain strictly regulated.
So the effect of today's changes at the check-out will be limited. Any deregulation in Europe should be welcomed and supported, and we must continue to push for more reform of the EU's anachronistic agriculture policy. But the actions of Brussels today only expose - once again - the unbelievable extent of our government. Why, in 2008, do we have page after page of law (each requiring hours of debate and drafting, not to mention thousands in taxpayers' money) determining what constitutes a good pear and a bad pear. Consumers can make that decision on their own, without the need of benign guidance from above. Between Brussels and Whitehall every aspect of our lives is somehow regulated or prescribed, from what school we can send our children to, to which apples we are allowed to buy in the shops. A society in which those decisions are made for us is one desperately in need of reform.