Strict Rules Upheld for Spanish Citrus Farms

     (CN) – A European Commission scheme to force Spanish citrus growers to label products that have been chemically treat in post-harvest processing has been given the go-ahead by the EU’s lower court.
     As the regulatory and administrative arm of the European Union, the commission has the power to label on a host of products – including citrus fruits.
     But Spanish growers balked in 2011, when the agency went beyond the UN’s “optional” standards and ordered the labeling of all citrus crops that have been chemically treated post-harvest to preserve freshness and color.
     In a ruling issued Thursday, the European General Court dismissed Spain’s challenge by pointing out that the commission doesn’t have to adopt UN guidelines when it comes to marketing citrus fruit – although regulators are required to consider the UN’s standards before coming up with their own rules.
     Spain had argued that the labeling rule is unconstitutional because it treats citrus growers differently than other fruit farmers, who also do post-harvest chemical treatment of their produce. The country added that compulsory labeling could lead consumers to believe that only oranges, lemons and mandarins – pomelos, grapefruit and limes are exempt because of low sales in the EU – have been sprayed with chemicals.
     But the court said that an informed consumer is a happy consumer, and noted citrus peels have culinary value that banana and apple peels do not.
     “Citrus producers are thus in a different situation to that of producers of other fruits and vegetables. Consequently, the principle of equal treatment and nondiscrimination is not infringed,” the court wrote in its opinion, which was not made available in English.
     The Luxembourg-based court also rejected Spain’s claim that their fruits would be unfairly punished on the export market, since theirs would bear the label of shame and other exporters’ fruits would not.
     “The labeling relating to the possible post-harvest processing of citrus fruits is necessary in order to ensure adequate consumer protection,” the court wrote. “Therefore, it is not acceptable to distinguish between consumers within the EU and those outside. Furthermore, that uniform high level of consumer protection helps to maintain and strengthen their position on international markets. It is part of the image of quality and reliability of products originating in the EU.”
     That image could be harmed if someone outside the EU were to be sickened from eating treated, unlabeled Spanish citrus fruits, the court concluded.
     Spain has two months to appeal the general court’s decision to the Court of Justice.
     

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