Who ever would have thought it would come to this â€“ congressmen writing legislation to force a domestic marketing order to end restrictions on ugly tomatoes? But thatâ€™s exactly what happened late last week when Pennsylvania congressional representatives introduced bills to force the Florida Tomato Committee (FTC) to lift its marketing restrictions on UglyRipe tomatoes â€“ grown in Florida.
Legislation was introduced in both houses Senators Arlen Specter, R-Pa. and Rick Santorum, R-Pa. and Representative Don Sherwood, R-Pa., seeking an end to the restrictions imposed on the UglyRipe by the FTC. The FTC sets standards pertaining to the shape of Florida-grown tomatoes that are shipped out of state during winter months.
Why they â€˜see redâ€™
The Agricultural Marketing Success Act of 2005 permits identified tomato varieties operating under a federal identity-preservation program to be exempt from marketing order restrictions. UglyRipe was granted an exemption by the FTC from size and shape standards during its first three seasons, when it saw robust sales nationwide.
Then, the FTC put the squeeze on UglyRipes for the fourth season, claiming it didnâ€™t meet grade standards. "Cherry tomatoes, Roma tomatoes and grape tomatoes are exempted from the FTC standards because they cannot possibly be graded by the same standards as the Florida round tomato," says Joe Procacci, chairman of Philadelphia-based Procacci Brothers, Inc. "We bred the UglyRipe for its taste, not its shape."
So a protest campaign was launched on the UglyRipe Web site. Consumers were asked to write to the FTC, USDA and their congressman. "We had to do something to make sure people were getting what they want. Since the Florida Tomato Committee didn't act in the best interest of the consumer, we decided to take our cause to Washington."
Procacci Brothers and its Garden State Farms division are one of the largest growers and handlers of fresh tomatoes in the world.