The OECD Agricultural Codes and Schemes programme can help. Although rating the acceptable curves of a string bean, the plump firmness of a tomato or the ungainly shape of an avocado might sound like a long way from OECD forecasting, for forty years the organisation has given its stamp of approval to standards for 42 different fruits and vegetables. The programme provides an internationally agreed baseline for classification of goods, adding to standards also created for tractors, seeds and forest reproductive material, including over 250 species of trees.
The aim is to simplify import and export procedures, and increase transparency when opening markets. Farmers and exporters can aim for particular standards, and importers and consumers will know what they are paying for. OECD references exist for the likes of lettuces, plums, asparagus, broccoli and eggplant (aubergine), including colour gauges and detailed photographs. Its most recent publications, three guides on cultivated mushrooms, strawberries and beans, interpret clearly what is and what is not permissible for produce sold between the 22 countries who have signed on to the programme.
The certification and standardisation of products does not mean judging flavour, nor does it mean eliminating non-graded fruits and vegetables, but they can increase market confidence and consumer protection. Take beans (haricots). Not only must bean pods be undamaged, and free from pests, their inner seeds must meet a standard size and texture. An Extra rating is only awarded to impeccable beans, while a Class II bean may have slight rust spots or shape defects. The rest is a matter of taste.
Strawberries: ISBN 9264013229; Mushrooms: ISBN 9264013245; Beans: ISBN 926401327X. See the New Publications pages or www.oecdbookshop.org for ordering details.
For more on OECD’s work on international production standards, see: www.oecd.org/agr/code/. See also “Tractor birthday”, OECD Observer No. 236, March 2003, on international standards for tractors.
©OECD Observer No 252/253, November 2005