It Took a While, but the 'Midget' Raisin is No More

Dancing California Raisins
The Dancing California Raisins. George Rose/Getty Images

Responding to a petition first filed by the Little People of America in May 2103, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has agreed to remove “midget” from its list of size classifications for raisins. 

In a new federal regulation proposed by the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) on August 13, the USDA would eliminate all five occurrences of the word “midget” from the “U.S. Standards for Grades of Processed Raisins.” The USDA had used “midget” to describe the smallest size of commercially processed raisins since WWII.

‘Small,’ Not ‘Midget’

“The action would clarify AMS grade standards by eliminating the use of the term ‘midget,’ while consistently using the term ‘small’ for raisins graded in that category,” states the USDA’s proposed rule. “The industry has used the two grade terms interchangeably for years. The proposed grade standards would be applied uniformly by all handlers.”

The USDA acknowledged that the change was being made in response to the petition from the Little People of America (LPA), a non-profit advocacy group providing support and information to persons with a medical diagnosis of dwarfism or other form of short stature between 2’-8” and 4’-8” tall and their families.

“On May 13, 2013, AMS received a petition from the Little People of America stating that they ‘are trying to raise awareness around and eliminate the use of the word midget,’” the USDA said.

According to the USDA, the petition also stated that, “Though the use of the word midget by the USDA when classifying certain food products is benign, Little People of America, and the dwarfism community, hopes that the USDA would consider phasing out the term midget.”

The Problem with ‘Midget’

The LPA considers the word “midget” to be “an antiquated slang term often used as slur toward shorter than average persons, specifically, “a person with a diagnosable skeletal dysplasia or medical condition,” according to the group’s Web site.

In 2014, the LPA criticized Marvin Lewis, head coach of pro football’s Cincinnati Bengals for referring to Cleveland Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel as a “midget.” Manziel, while considered by some in the sport to be “short” for a pro football quarterback, is 6’-0” tall.

“LPA has been actively working to get the word taken out of society's vernacular, where it is often used carelessly and without regard to who else it may affect,” states the LPA.

Dwarfism is a recognized condition under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

In 2011, Startbucks Coffee agreed to pay $75,000 to settle an ADA-based disability discrimination lawsuit brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charging that the coffee retailing giant had unlawfully denied a reasonable accommodation to a barista with dwarfism at one of its El Paso stores and subsequently fired her because of her disability.

How Tall is a Midget Raisin?

Under USDA standards adopted in 1978, midget – now to be called “small” raisins -- are “95 percent, by weight, of all the raisins will pass through round perforations 24/64-inch in diameter, and not less than 70 percent, by weight, of all raisins will pass through round perforations 22/64-inch in diameter.”

Size standards for commercially-processed raisins are set by the USDA’s Raisin Administrative Committee, which had already “approved the removal of the term midget from the standards” in 2014.

When Will You Notice the Change?

While you might already see “small” replacing “midget” on raisin packaging and advertising, the change will not become official for while. As required by law, the USDA must continue to accept public comments on the new regulation until October 20. At least a month later, the new regulation will be published in the Federal Register, making the change from “midget” to “small” official.

Justice or ‘Political Correctness?’

Interestingly, the only two comments submitted on the rule change so far have come from people opposed to the growing demand for “political correctness.”

“This is akin to killing fleas with a cannon,” wrote on commenter. “Certainly, there is a better use for workers at the USDA than to be checking under every rock for an offended person.”

“It's a shame political correctness has come to censoring the federal government!” stated the other comment. “Eliminating 5 ‘midget’ mentions in the guidelines at expense of millions more ‘midget’ mentions on the interwebs is ridiculous!”