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WASHINGTON -- In response to hundreds of news stories and letters in support of removing restrictions on the marketing of the UglyRipe tomato, legislation was presented today in the U.S. Senate to do just that.
The legislation, co-sponsored by Senators Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) and Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), would bring an end to the restrictions imposed on the UglyRipe by the Florida Tomato Committee (FTC).
Rep. Don Sherwood (R-Pa.) is submitting similar legislation in the House of Representatives.
The Agricultural Marketing Success Act of 2005 would permit identified tomato varieties operating under an enhanced USDA inspection and audit program, the Identity Preservation Program, to be exempt from marketing order restrictions.
The UglyRipe was granted an exemption by the FTC from the standards, pertaining to size and shape, during its first three seasons, where it saw robust sales nationwide. However, the FTC has denied an exemption for the fourth season, claiming the UglyRipe does not have the appropriate shape to meet the grade standards.
The FTC sets standards pertaining to the shape of round tomatoes grown South and East of the Suwannee River and shipped out of Florida from October 10 through June 15. The bill is being introduced in response to a controversy over the UglyRipe tomato -- a controversy that has plagued both tomato producers and consumers this season.
"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," said Joe Procacci, chairman of tomato grower Procacci Brothers, Inc. "With its ribbed shoulders and concave stem, the UglyRipe is not meant to, either. We bred the UglyRipe for its taste, not its shape."
A protest campaign was launched on the UglyRipe Web site (www.uglyripe.com) where consumers were asked to write to the FTC, the USDA, and their congressman. Not only did consumers make their voices heard in protest, but words of encouragement poured in from all over the country in support of the cause.
"In all my years of growing tomatoes, before growing the UglyRipe, I never once received a letter complimenting the way my tomatoes taste," said Procacci. "But in the past couple of months alone, we've received over 100 letters from people praising the UglyRipe and asking where to buy them. I knew 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."
"It has become clear that the Florida Tomato Order was depriving consumers of products that they wanted, stifling product innovation, and holding back Florida agriculture," said John R. Block, former USDA Secretary under President Reagan. "This legislation will bring the best of Florida's tomatoes to the modern marketplace."