Environmental concerns and the Common Market law were totally disconnected spheres in the European Economic Community during the late 1950s and the 1960s. The European Economic Community produced its main corpus of environmental regulations only after 1972. Nonetheless, environmental effects emerged from the EEC agricultural trade regulations once the Treaty of Rome was signed.
This presentation explores how the early Common Market competition law, directed towards export growth, impacted the food chain production of fruit and vegetables in French and Italian farming areas. The European Commission commercialised these perishable products through standard ‘quality categories’, related to better or worse genetic performance (ripeness, shape, storage resilience). Thus, qualities formed liberal criteria of selection, and since 1962 they became the barometer of the price levels in the Common Market. The ‘better’ was the fruit, the higher was the price. Mediterranean farming areas raced to comply with qualitative characteristics in crops. Genetically enhanced varieties and hybrids began penetrating local cropping systems and commercial circuits.
Quality categories also encouraged intensive plantations, able to provide large quantities and cover the market needs all year round. Meanwhile competition with imported cheaper raw products of lower categories from non-EEC countries (African notably) made the European qualities lose often their credibility as income guarantees in public debates. The decade closed with a vast budgetary crisis in 1968, during which markets flooded with unsold products. As a response, the European Commission ratified the extirpation of fruit trees and vegetable crops. The regulatory choice to restore market balance through targeted crop destruction was not yet seen under environmental lens at that time. However, in search of the best price for the consumer the ongoing overproduction and crop standardisation stood at the origins of subsequent environmental problems.