One of the most enduring claims relating to the European Union has reared its head again in the media.
An infamous Brussels regulation allegedly banning “bendy bananas” avoided being scrapped in the ‘Brexit bonfire’.
Ferret Fact Service took a look at perhaps the most repeated claim about the EU.
Why is it back in the news?
The UK Government had planned to discard thousands of pieces of EU legislation in the Retained EU Law bill, with regulations which were kept in UK law to ease the Brexit transition to be automatically phased out by the end of 2023.
However, the so-called ‘Brexit bonfire’ was cut back significantly after pushback from a cross-party group in the House of Lords, and only about 600 laws ended up being removed or phased out.
Media organisations noted that one law that had been used as an example of EU overreach during the referendum campaign was not being scrapped – the regulation which covers the size and shape of bananas.
What is the ‘bendy banana’ law?
The law which was originally associated with “bendy bananas” was passed in 1994.
Commission Regulation 2257/94 identifies certain restrictions for fruits that producers have to conform to in order to sell their produce within the EU. The regulation states that bananas must be “free from malformation or abnormal curvature”.
The law did not ban “bendy bananas” as has been repeatedly claimed in the UK media. Instead it divided them into different classes. ‘Extra’ class must be “free from defects” aside from “slight superficial blemishes”. Class I’s are allowed to have “slight defects in shape” and “slight skin defects”, while Class II bananas are the minimum standard allowed, and can include defects of shape and skin.
The regulation was brought in by the European Commission to guarantee minimum standards for bananas that were imported to the EU. This was to ensure that importers were not being short-changed when they bought bananas.
It applied to both bananas imported from outside the EU and those grown in the union.
It was brought in after requests from fruit traders and a farmers trade group called the committee of professional agricultural organisations (COPA), which represents agriculture workers in the EU.
The regulation still exists in the EU, although it is now under an umbrella piece of legislation.
Where did the controversy come from?
The obscure regulation was picked up by The Sun newspaper among others, which ran a story criticising the new rules headlined “Now they’ve really gone bananas”, and it solidified in British media folklore.
Claims about the law have been repeated consistently in the media, in the UK parliament and by Eurosceptic politicians over the past 28 years. It was regularly mentioned during the EU referendum campaign in 2016. Boris Johnson, mentioned the regulation in his speech when launching the Vote Leave bus campaign in May of 2016, and brought it up consistently in the run-up to the referendum.
A survey by Ipsos-Mori in June 2016, before the Brexit vote, found 24 per cent of those polled thought bananas that are “too bendy” were banned from being imported into the UK.
What are the other enduring ‘Euromyths’?
Similarly misleading claims about EU directives include The Sun’s claim that the commission was trying to ban women working behind bars from showing too much cleavage. This came from EU guidance that aimed to protect hospitality workers from the sun’s rays, and made no attempt to force workers to change their clothes. It handed employers the responsibility for ensuring that workers were not exposed to dangerous levels of sun exposure.
Another widely reported story suggested that Bombay mix was to be renamed ‘Mumbai mix’ to take account of the fact that the Indian city had changed its name in 1995. This story was found to be completely false and no regulation was ever discussed or passed.
Ferret Fact Service (FFS) is a non-partisan fact checker, and a signatory to the International Fact-Checking Network fact-checkers’ code of principles. All the sources used in our checks are publicly available and the FFS fact-checking methodology can be viewed here. Want to suggest a fact check? Go to community.theferret.scot, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or join our Facebook group.
Photocredit: iStock/Dan Dalton