Re-thinking the death penalty, and labels on fruit

I’ve been wondering if maybe we have the death penalty all wrong.

Maybe instead of using the death penalty to deter people from committing crimes for which the death penalty probably isn’t a sufficient deterrent, we should use it to very effectively deter people from committing minor offences.

For example, someone may still risk a death penalty for flying to Singapore with drugs up their bum, if their family is being held hostage by a drug gang. Whereas I don’t think anybody is going to risk the death penalty for not properly sorting their recyclables.

I’m against any form of death penalty, but it also drives me nuts when people don’t put their recyclables in the correct recycling bin, or even worse, put non-recyclables in the recycling bin.

Though I’d like to take one step further and propose that Australia introduce the death penalty for one specific offence. It’s not currently a criminal (or even civil) offence, so first we’d have to draft and pass a law making it illegal. But bear with me.

For the past few months I’ve been making the most of that most wonderful hallmark of a great Australian summer – an abundance of fresh, juicy, delicious summer fruits. I would never describe myself as a Fruitarian (unless beer, wine, gin and tonic and a medium rare steak can be reclassified as fruits) but I do love myself a big fruity smoothie, a sprinkle of chopped fruits and berries on my muesli, and half a mango or a banana when I’m peckish and the cookie jar is calling to me.

There’s just one negative aspect of my fruity indulgences, and it is my frustration and annoyance with the stupid little labels stuck on so many pieces of fruit in my fruit bowl.

They don’t work, they add to the cost of my fruit, they’re not recyclable, and they’re not compostable.

Cast your mind back to the last few pieces of fruit you purchased – you may be able to remember the country of origin, you might perhaps recall the specific variety of fruit it was, but can you remember the brand? The grower? The tag line? Why you should choose to buy this same fruit again next time? No, I didn’t think so. Neither can I. Nobody in the real world changes from one source of mangoes to another because they remember a preference for the brand printed on the label. Fruit labels don’t work as a marketing tool.

Are fruit labels quick and easy to remove? No, they are annoyingly clingy and determined to remain on your fingers or the bench top when you finally succeed in getting them off the skin of the fruit.

Are they free? No. A fruit label isn’t expensive to design, print, distribute and run through a fruit labelling machine. The person managing the fruit labelling machine has to be paid, as does the shipping company, the warehouse they’re coming from, the printer who made them, the designer at the agency who created them and the designer’s boss, who no doubt leads an extravagant fruit marketing agency boss lifestyle. Cravats don’t come cheap. Each individual fruit label might cost a tiny fraction of a cent, but when labels are applied to most of the developed world’s fruit, it’s a huge impost on you and I, the fruit consumer.

Are fruit labels recyclable? No. Are they compostable so I can just leave them on the fruit skin when I slip it into my worm farm? No. Are they mostly still stuck to the back of my finger, the chopping board, or just on the outside edge of the rubbish bin, from where they will eventually fall, to adhere near-permanently to the kitchen floor? Yes. Yes, they are.

Sometimes, market forces achieve a desired result but after decades with no fruit labelling regulations, where has the market left us? With fruit labels that don’t work, add to the cost of fruit, aren’t recyclable or compostable. I’m no more a fan of red tape as the next tech startup angel investor, but in this case we must reluctantly turn to regulation to solve this problem, since the market has been unable to.

We should therefore ban fruit labels. Make them illegal. Force the fruit marketing agency boss to find another way to pay for his growing cravat collection.

The question then becomes: what is an appropriate penalty for labelling fruit? And this is where the death penalty comes in.

You see, maybe the death penalty is only inhumane and immoral when people are put to death.

Sadly, every year around the world, a lot of people are put to death for a range of offences, some of them for doing things that I would argue are a lesser crime than uselessly labelling fruit, such as witchcraft, sorcery (Saudi Arabia), blasphemy (Iran and Pakistan) and “questioning the leader’s policies” (North Korea).

Maybe, if the penalty for labelling fruit is death by lethal injection (which is, according to my reading, the least-inhumane method of administering the death penalty) then we’d achieve immediate and total legal compliance.

Nobody’s going to risk their life to make sure you spend half a minute in growing frustration trying to remove a stubborn sticker telling you that the Tahitian limes you bought came from Upper Jumbuck Citrus Farms. It just won’t happen. Your summer gin and tonic will be frustration-free, and nobody actually needs to die.

In the future utopia in which I will be your benevolent dictator, you can look forward to the introduction of the death penalty for a wide range of minor offences including (but not limited to) labelling fruit and vegetables, retailing fruit and vegetables in plastic, standing too close to the airport luggage carousel, and chewing with your mouth open.

You’re welcome, Australia.

I’m Alan Jones, an EiR for startup accelerators, GP at M8 Ventures. Previously investor, founder, and early Yahoo PM. Opinions mine (but should also be yours).

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