Going straight

By PHILIP BUSHILL-MATTHEWS [email protected]

Philip Bushill-Matthews is a Member of the European Parliament and is the Employment and Social Affairs Coordinator for the European People’s Party / European Democrats.

In the European Parliament’s Environment Committee, MEPs have just voted on a Report to ban certain Plant Protection Products – those various chemicals used to keep plants healthy and bug-free – and certain UK MEPs have proposed amendments to toughen up the proposal further.

The reason is that products that keep plants healthy may harm human health and also damage the environment. Unfortunately certain MEPs are creating a different problem.

The British Pesticides Safety Directorate has published a full impact assessment on the Parliament’s proposed amendments. It concludes that up to 85 per cent of pesticides, herbicides, fungicides and insecticides currently in general use could be banned. On that basis, crop yields would go down significantly and prices would go up throughout Europe. No wonder my daily postbag is filled with letters from fuming farmers. They are right to fume.

Protecting our environment and public health should not have to come at the expense of our farmers or indeed consumers, who already face rising prices across the board. However there will be a further vote by all MEPs this month, when hopefully we can straighten the matter out.

Meanwhile the good news – one item which no longer needs straightening out is the cucumber. The Commission has thrown out rules which banned curvy cucumbers and generally odd-shaped veg. This should increase availability and generally bring down prices – though not for certain fruit and certainly not for bananas. There is a reason for this.

Bendy bananas

The Commission’s job is to promote common trading standards to protect consumers from being fobbed off with substandard products. Hence their fruity Regulation 2257/94 that bananas should ‘be free from malformation or abnormal curvature of the fingers’.

Now the UK had its own separate law on bendy bananas well before this EU regulation. Other countries did too, but each law was expressed slightly differently. The EU regulation defines a single standard, addressing the underlying problem that an over-bendy banana is a signal that the banana inside is diseased.

The skin may still look golden yellow, and still feel solid to the touch – but peel it and you would find it was rotten to the core. But by then you would have bought it. That’s why we still need rules about bendy bananas, but preferably one rule rather than 27. This EU regulation actually helps produce a Common Market for healthy bananas while peeling away a variety of national rules.

Please do not tell anyone about this. It would be a shame to let the facts get in the way of a good story. But if you think you can have a Common Market without common rules, then it is you who has gone bananas. I hope this matter is now straight.

Philip Bushill-Matthews can be contacted by emailing [email protected]