January 12, 2004

Is That a Regulation Banana in Your Pocket


From "The fruit police" by Roger Kimball at The New Criterion's weblog, Armavirimque:

"David told us how his family had been planting a certain type of potato for decades at their farm in Wales: no more. The EU ministers decreed that type of spud verboten. They had rules for hedges, lawns, sausages, and comestibles of every sort. It became a crime to sell a pound of . . . well, of anything: one had to adopt the metric system or go to jail. Bananas that deviated too much from the perpendicular were illegal. I am not sure what happened to bananas that were overly curvaceous: perhaps they were required to take Pilates.

It all seemed so . . . absurd. And so it was. Unless you were caught selling pound of beef or a bendy banana.

I had more or less forgotten this episode until my friend sent me an article from the December 19 issue of the London Times. The headline tells the tale:

Why is this banana legally curved instead of just crooked?
Because it is the fruit of the finest judicial minds in Europe.
Unfortunately, the article is available on-line only for a fee, but here is the gist:
GOODBYE bendy bananas. Farewell curved cucumbers. So long chunky carrots. The European Union has finally triumphed in its quest to tame nature and keep unusually shaped fruit and vegetables off our shop shelves.
The House of Lords yesterday ordered greengrocers across the country to obey every EU horticultural regulation passed over the past 30 years concerning fresh produce and conform to the myriad of rules covering size, length, colour and texture.

The law lords rejected the argument, put forward by the supermarket Asda, that a legal blunder in 1973 had made the EU laws unenforceable. Now greengrocers will have to ensure that under EU regulation 2257/94 their bananas are at least 13.97cm (5.5in) long and 2.69cm (1.06in) round and do not have "abnormal curvature", as set out in an eight-page directive drawn up in 1994.

The ban on bendy bananas was necessary, according to an EU Commission official at the time, to prevent them from being mistaken for a "bicycle wheel".
I have often had occasion to quote Tocqueville's warning about the process of "democratic despotism," which proceeds by extending
its arms over society as a whole; it covers its surface with a network of small, complicated, painstaking, uniform rules through which the most original minds and the most vigorous souls cannot clear a way to surpass the crowd; it does not break wills, but it softens them, bends them, and directs them; it rarely forces one to act, but it constantly opposes itself to one's acting; it does not destroy, it prevents things from being born; it does not tyrannize, it hinders, compromises, enervates, extinguishes, dazes, and finally reduces each nation to being nothing more than a herd of timid and industrious animals of which the government is the shepherd.
Of course, the behavior of the EU does not conform exactly to Tocqueville's scenario. To be sure, it covers the surface of society "with a network of small, complicated, painstaking, uniform rules"--the last time I checked there were 185,000 pages of rules and regulations; the EU "does not tyrannize, it hinders, compromises, enervates, extinguishes, dazes" and so on. But Tocqueville was talking about democratic despotism, and the EU presents the novel spectacle of its bureaucratic, or soft-totalitarian alternative. It is (so far) less brutal, but no less infantilizing, no less an enemy of freedom.
It may seem silly to get worked up about bananas; edicts about potatoes may seem like small potatoes. Does it really matter that one's favorite sausage or cheese is now deemed illegal? The EU has declared "racism" and "xenophobia" crimes--but who in his right mind would wish to express racist or xenophobic attitudes? Exactly what are racist or xenophobic attitudes? Well, that's for the ministers in Brussels to determine. You don't like that? A pity, because, if you're a European, you're stuck with it. The ministers are not elected by you, they are appointed by each other. They meet in secret. They issue diktats that affect the lives of the whole European Community. Once upon a time, you could have criticized this sort of tyranny, but the ministers in their wisdom have decided that dissent is unprogressive. Consequently, it is illegal for journalists to criticize the decisions of the EU. Is that an infringement on the right of free speech? Who said anything about a right to free speech? This is the new, multicultural Europe. Health care and welfare and an early retirement for everyone. And a 35-hour work week. Want to work longer hours? That's a crime too."

Read it all here.

Posted by Noel at January 12, 2004 01:15 AM


Good posting!

I've just started David Bernstein's "You Can't Say That." He makes the point (or quotes someone else who did) that the problem with laws against "hate speech" (I'm sure it applies equally as well to racism or xenophobia) is not that there's anything good about "hate speech" but that eventually your enemies will be able to decide what qualifies, and then you'll be SOL.

I wonder, do you suppose Europe will ever wake up, or do you suppose that the spirit that birthed America's libertarian foundation is in a coma without a feeding tube?


Posted by: Bronson at January 13, 2004 11:49 AM

Dunno, Bronson. Sometimes there are flashes of resistance. If the EU Constitution is imposed, that would be a major setback. Many countries seem hell-bent on self-extinction. Physically; through declining birth-rates, culturally; through mass-immigration & multi-cultism, and legally; through Statism & creeping Islamic Law.
We've got a fight on our hands ourselves.

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