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EU ponders: “When is a cucumber just a cucumber?”

EU ponders: “When is a cucumber just a cucumber?”
SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

If you’re trying to understand why many Europeans remain skeptical of European Union expansion despite its demonstrated economic benefits, look no further than the union’s marketing standards for produce, which are being debated this month:

Consider the Class I cucumber, which must be “practically straight (maximum height of the arc: 10 mm per 10 cm of the length of cucumber).” Translation: A six-inch cucumber cannot bend more than six-tenths of an inch. Following 16 pages of regulations on apples (Class I must be at least 60mm, or 2 1/3 inches, in diameter) come 19 pages of amendments outlining the approved colors for more than 250 kinds.

As for peaches, “to reach a satisfactory degree of ripeness . . . the refractometrix index of the flesh, measured at the middle point of the fruit pulp at the equatorial section must be greater than or equal to 8° Brix.”

Wikipedia informs me that Brix is a measurement of the level of sugar in a liquid. What this has to do with the refractometix index–a measurement of light–is beyond this liberal arts major.

The European Commission’s agriculture comissioner wants to scrap the majority of the standards, arguing that it’s ridiculous for stores to be throwing away perfectly edible food during a global shortage. This makes a lot of sense, but I suspect the real reason is that arguments over cucumber thickness and banana straightness give EU opponents such perfect fodder for mockery.