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Banning Barbie

It is refreshing to have a bit of silliness introduced into a world consumed by weighty problems seeking resolution. For our examples we turn to West Virginia and the European Union. West Virginia is concerned with beauty and the European Union is concerned with ugly.

The voice for West Virginians concerned with beauty belongs to Jeff Eldridge of West Virginia, a member of the House of Representatives of that fair state.

On March 3, 2009, Mr. Eldridge introduced House Bill 2918. The summary of the Bill says it is a bill banning “the sale of ‘Barbie’ dolls and other dolls that influence girls to be beautiful.” The bill provides that “It shall be unlawful in the state to sell “Barbie Dolls” and other similar dolls that cause girls to place an undue importance on physical beauty to the detriment of their intellectual and emotional development.” The Bill has been assigned to the Judiciary Committee where, as of this writing, it resides, if not languishes.

Mr. Eldridge’s goal, apparently, is to give Barbie a birthday present she’ll not forget-banishment from the state. On March 9 she celebrated her 50th birthday. Mr. Eldridge believes that even though during Barbie’s lifetime women have achieved much many would not have believed possible on Barbie’s birthday, they would, nonetheless, have gone to greater heights but for Barbie’s pernicious influence.

Springing full blown from Mattel’s womb, Barbie did not have to wait until she grew up to wield her evil influence on girls. She started the minute she saw the light of day. And a devastating influence it’s been. As Mr. Eldridge explained: “Basically, I introduced legislation because the Barbie doll, I think, gives emphasis on if you’re beautiful, you don’t have to be smart.” If any beautiful woman happens upon this column she can decide for herself whether or not she has forsaken brains for beauty. All that said, it’s clear Mr. Eldridge would applaud the recent actions of the European Union. Beginning in July 2009 “ugly” will be in and “beauty” will be out. It started one year ago.

For many years the European Union has enforced strict rules not only on the quality of fruits and vegetables but on their appearance. The rules dictate the acceptable colors of leeks, the angle of repose of cucumbers as well as carrot’s shapes. The rules apply to cherries, onions, peas, plums and countless other vegetables. According to a report in the Times on Line tons of fruits and vegetables are discarded each year due to absence of beauty or ideal size. Tim Down, a Bristol UK fruit and vegetable wholesaler experienced the consequences of these rules first hand. He “was forced to throw away 520 Chilean kiwis after being told by the Rural Payments Agency that they did not meet industry standards.” Some of the kiwis were 4 grams less than the prescribed weight. Talking to FoodNavigator Mr. Down said standards should be implemented in sensible ways. “How anyone ever sat down in an office in Brussels and got paid an enormous amount of money to decide on the correct curvature of a cucumber beggars belief.” Mr. Down was referring to Commission Regulation No. 1677/88 of June 15, 1988.

Commission Regulation No. 1677/88 sets the beauty contest rules for cucumbers. Addressing Class I cucumbers and their beauty, the Regulation specifies that they must “be reasonably well shaped and practically straight (maximum height of the arc: 10 mm per 10 cm of the length of cucumber)”. If they are slightly crooked (also defined by reference to their arc) they may be sold if otherwise “cosmetically perfect.” If they fail that test they must be destroyed or shipped off for processing where beauty is not an issue. Carrots may not be forked and must be free from secondary roots. According to a report from the BBC magazine as a result of the focus on beauty in the fruit and vegetable world “tones of perfectly-edible produce across the EU is thrown away so that when you walk into the supermarket all you see is rank after serried rank of cosmetically perfect fruit and vegetables.” Thanks to the actions of the EU a significant number of members of the fruit and vegetable kingdom will no long depend on their beauty to find acceptance on grocers’ shelves.

In November 2008 the European Commission decreed that effective July 1, 2009, consumers “will be able to purchase 26 items including onions, apricots, Brussel sprouts, watermelons and cauliflowers with as many knobs, bumps and curves as they like.” Bananas, however, will still be regulated and must be “free from abnormal curvature of the fingers.” Acknowledging that beauty contests for bananas might also warrant revisiting, Michael Mann, the EC’s agriculture spokesperson told FoodNavigator: “Perhaps we will come back to bananas in the future.” While applauding the actions of the EC in permitting the sale of fruits with offensive bumps and curves, Mr. Eldridge no doubt hopes his legislature will ban Barbie because of what he perceives to be her offensive bumps and curves.

CHRISTOPHER BRAUCHLI is a lawyer living in Boulder, Colorado. He can be reached at: brauchli1@comcast.net

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