The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has intervened in the national debate over the UglyRipe tomato, freeing the beefsteak variety tomato from shape restrictions imposed by the Florida Tomato Committee (FTC).
The tomato's developer, Joe Procacci, had been at odds with the FTC, a group of competing growers sanctioned by federal law. The FTC is empowered to determine all size and shape standards for tomatoes entering the US market from mid-October to mid-June.
For the past three years, the FTC has found that the UglyRipe does not meet its standards, which are based on size and shape, but not taste. This meant the tomatoes were prohibited for sale outside of the Florida growing region during winter.
The new USDA rule amends the Florida Tomato Marketing Order to exempt the UglyRipe from the shape portion of the USDA grade standards as long as it's grown, packed, and distributed under USDA's Identity Preservation Program (IPP). The IPP uses the genetic fingerprint of a produce variety to assure that it is the product claimed by its grower. The UglyRipe will still have to meet all other grade standards imposed under the marketing order.
The UglyRipe, available as conventional or organic produce, took more than 20 years and more than $3 million in research funding by Procacci Brothers Sales Corp to develop. The brand is marketed by Santa Sweets, a Plant City FL company owned by Procacci Brothers.