European Definitions (Fruit and Vegetables)

Environment Food and Rural Affairs written question – answered on 4th February 2004.

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Photo of Mr Teddy Taylor Mr Teddy Taylor Conservative, Rochford and Southend East

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs if she will make a statement on the scale of penalties which will be incurred by retailers for selling (a) peaches which are less than 5.6 cm in diameter, (b) bananas which are less than 13.97 cm long and (c) carrots which are less than 1.9 cm at the thick end, following the Law Lords' decision on the case against Asda initiated by her Department.

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

In November 2000 an inspector from the Horticultural Marketing Inspectorate found that some of the fruit and vegetables on display in the Asda store at Fareham in Hampshire contravened EC marketing standards. Asda's representatives argued that the court had no jurisdiction to deal with the alleged offences and the case eventually reached the House of Lords who on 18 December 2003 found in Defra's favour and returned the case to the magistrates court for trial. The full extent of the House of Lords decision can be found on the Defra website at www.defra.gov.uk .

This decision confirms the view that the European Community's Marketing Standards for fresh fruit and vegetables and for bananas assist trade and protect consumers from the sale of substandard products can be upheld by prosecuting offenders in the magistrates court. It should be noted that contraventions in the Asda case involved inadequate labelling in relation to fruits such as lemons, apples, oranges and plums as well as the standard of Iceberg lettuces and aubergines. Unlike standards for other fresh fruits and vegetables, which do apply at retail level, the standard for bananas applies only to unripened green bananas. These are inspected only at the port of entry into the UK.

While the figures given in the question are based on some misapprehension, produce of less than the minimum sizes prescribed in the standards is generally regarded as of unmarketable quality. The penalty for selling produce in breach of the EU Marketing Standards is a fine not exceeding Level 5 on the standard scale (currently £5,000) or imprisonment for up to three months, or both. These are unaffected by the decision of the Law Lords. However, prosecution is a last resort. When inspections show that produce does not comply with the standards, inspectors seek first to secure action to bring it into compliance. Prosecution is considered only where traders have failed to respond to repeated warnings.

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