The adoption of standards and the implementation of regulations within the olive oil industry is a continual process aimed at separating ‘real’ from ‘fake’ and ensuring each consumer receives the product that they pay for. In concept, a rigidly enforced standard ensures that the product will match its advertised origin and quality, even if that standard is voluntary. It is the hope of producers worldwide that strengthening consumer trust in local or regional products will not only stimulate local industry, but protect consumers from being exposed to substandard olive oil products.
There have been moves made in Australia, the EU and most recently the US to utilise standards compliance, in particular labeling policy, to ensure the image of the olive oil industry remains untarnished.
Last month, California Governor Jerry Brown signed Bill 65 into law which prevents producers from specifying their product to be ‘made in California’ if anything less than 85% of that oil is produced in the state or is not traceable to fruit grown in the area.
Lois Wolk, California’s Senator and the proponent of the original legislation proposed in 2013, insisted that “… it is critical that labels accurately reflect the product consumers are buying”.
This is not unlike the voluntary Australian Standard for Olive and Olive-Pomace Oils passed in 2011, which sought to protect consumers from substandard import oil by producing a clear distinction between grades of oil, requiring a provable technical basis for on-bottle claims as well as substantiation for point of origin and processing methods.
However, the International Olive Council recommended a reconsideration of these guidelines saying that the misapplication of standards policy could be “a barrier to international trade” possibly making olive oil adulteration ‘easier’.
Likewise, there has been debate over the draft bill table in Italy this month that would require companies to say where their food product was produced and packaged. This bill would extend to olive oil, and has been criticised for producing loopholes in defining the location of production and in fact causing consumers to confuse production location with the quality of ingredients.
Industry trade group FoodDrinkEurope slammed the proposal as “backdoor protectionism” and “…a competitive disadvantage”.
There is clearly a separation between the presence of standards and the effective implementation of those standards, especially where the olive oil industry is concerned.
Paul Miller, president of the Australian Olive Association, presenting at a legal conference hosted in New York yesterday proposed that the future of ensuring effective standards, and indeed measuring their comprehensiveness and implementation, lay in off the shelf testing. He said that monitoring and managing quality throughout an oil’s shelf life was the best way to prevent deception and to ensure the consumer receives the value they pay for.
While there may be debate over the fine print of policy implementation, there is clear evidence that the olive oil industry can benefit from better regulation that is focused on educating the consumer and protecting their value for money.
The success of the CTC Scheme implemented by the SA Olive Association locally is but one such example. Accuracy and intelligent standards can only serve to grow the relationship between the olive oil industry and its consumers, if the implementation of these standards continues to evolve and match the needs of producers, retailers and the individual buying olive oil from the shelf.