(Not So) Rotten Tomatoes and Sour Grapes

Sure, everyone’s heard that a US Department of Agriculture regulation governs the size of the holes in Swiss Cheese. But, did you know that another reg governs the shape and texture of tomatoes? As the WaPo’s Cindy Skrzycki notes today, tomato wholesaler Joseph Procacci bred a new tomato variety that (reputedly) tastes much better than the typical supermarket varieties. The only catch is that it doesn’t have a uniformly smooth skin, as USDA regs require. Procacci’s tomato is actually sold under the eponymous name UglyRipe, and the photo below shows that’s not just boastful marketing.


Unfortunately, like most commercial tomatoes, UglyRipe is grown in Florida, where, under USDA authority, the Florida Tomato Committee, “a dozen growers who supervise most of the $500 million-a-year Florida fresh-tomato industry,” set grading standards “to assure the quality and uniformity of the Florida round tomato.” Thus, according to Skrzycki, “Procacci’s pride couldn’t be sold outside Florida in the prime winter growing season, from October to June.” Until now, that is.

Although several Florida tomato growers and then-Florida Governor Jeb Bush objected, USDA amended its regs to grant the UglyRipe an exemption from the Florida standard and place it in USDA’s Identity Protection Program for unique varieties. Now, Procacci has to pay of $150,000 fee for the privilege of selling a perfectly good product that lots of consumers seem to want.