Massacre of Fruit

Next time you pay 3p. (at least) for a peach, remember that the sight of a tractor crushing huge mounds of these plump, juicy fruits prior to their mass burial is boringly familiar to those who live in the “California of Europe”, Italy’s main fruit-growing area in the Romagna.

We all know, of course, from those regular newspaper reports and prompt television documentaries that the practice is not confined to this area of Italy, or even of Europe. But this year’s slaughter of unmarketable fruit threaten to assume vaster, even more unimaginable proportions than in the past. Last year’s figures of several hundred thousand tons of peaches, pears and apples destroyed may well look small when this season’s wastage is revealed.

Even more dramatically, figures of “slaughtered” fruit only represent a small proportion of all the fruit actually “withdrawn from sale”. The rest of it is used mainly for fruit juices, wine-making and animal feed (although the animals obstinately refuse to understand that peach stones are for spitting out not swallowing and that they are not supposed to turn their noses up at regular feed when the seasonal supply of succulent pears runs out).

EEC Policy

When membership of the Common Market guaranteed Italian farmers markets and high fixed prices for all the fruit they could produce, fruit growing underwent an Eldoradan boom from one end of the peninsula to the other. As was to be expected however, the mad scramble for sales and profits quickly subordinated quality to quantity with the result that Italian fruit soon developed a reputation for being second best to more tasty varieties produced in other parts of the world. So when unpalatability plus inefficient and over-bureaucratic distribution methods caused sales to drop, the EEC authority was forced to step in and in accordance with their price-fixing agreement to buy up the ‘surplus’ and put it to the ‘uses’ described above.

They could not (and cannot) allow it to be released for sale at rock-bottom prices, as the immediate effect, of this would be to competitively force down the price of other fruit on the market and hit the farming profits they are in business to support.

Don’t Give it Away

But why, instead of destroying the surplus fruit, don’t they distribute it free to the wide areas of the world which have food shortages and malnutrition as a permanent problem? Low quality food, after all, is better than no food at all and such a practice could scarcely have a direct effect on market prices in the countries where the fruit is actually sold. They don’t, quite simply because the expense involved in such a procedure would exceed the cost of allowing the unsaleable fruit to be grown and then destroying it. Besides a solution like this would be entirely unacceptable to the governments of “shortage” countries, as free goods would constitute the most dangerous kind of competition to goods being sold on the market there. And who knows, apart from the damage to these countries’ economies (i.e. the profit prospects of those owning and controlling the means by which commodities are produced), a taste of free access, even on such a limited scale, might cause highly inconvenient social unrest?

So with production and distribution tied to the need to maximise profit, such a method of disposing of “surplus” goods is right out. In our present worldwide system of buying and selling human need is a poor match for market demand, that is, need backed up by ready cash.

Italian fruit, French vegetables, Common Market milk and butter, British eggs and potatoes, Canadian wheat and Japanese rice. It’s the same depressing and wasteful story the earth over (including no doubt, if information were released, Russia with its so-called “planned” economy). And nothing on earth can be more anarchical and anti-social than a system which dumps and destroys all it cannot sell at a profit. What but working-class ignorance and inertia stand in the way of a society which would plan its resources rationally for the satisfaction of worldwide human needs?

Howard Moss

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