Australia Adopts New Voluntary Standards for Olive Oil

Following a rigorous standards development process involving multiple industry stakeholders – and almost 800 public comments – Standards Australia has approved a new olive oil standard.

A benchmark for olive oil quality to ensure consumers get the product they pay for.- Colin Blair, Standards Australia

Standards Australia is a not-for-profit organisation recognised by the Australian government as the primary non-government standards body in Australia.

“Unscrupulous operators who are currently profiting from the significant price difference available by deceptively re-selling seed oils and/or inferior quality olive oil as high-value extra virgin olive oil will be seriously affected by this new regulation,” Leandro Ravetti told Olive Oil Times when the new draft was proposed in January. “Meanwhile, genuine and honest operators from Australia, New Zealand and overseas will receive the advantage of a level playing field where their higher quality products are protected and recognized.”

A member of the Standards Australia Technical Committee FT-034 Olive Oil representing Australian olive growers, Ravetti was in charge of writing the Standard, following directions received from a technical committee of varying representatives throughout the industry, and collating and resolving their comments and observations.

Colin Blair, the chief executive officer of Standards Australia said “The new standard will establish a benchmark for olive oil quality to ensure that consumers get the product they pay for. Olive oil can been found in virtually every kitchen pantry and this standard will result in better quality products for everyday consumers.”

Mr. Blair said the public comment process attracted significant public interest due to concern regarding the quality and consistency of olive oil products. According to Standards Australia, the new Australian Standard for Olive and Olive-Pomace Oils will:

• Clearly outline different grades of oil – whether fresh or refined
• Unambiguously define what constitutes Extra Virgin Olive Oil
• Include the most current and effective testing methods for quality and authenticity
• Provide a technical basis for ‘best before’ claims
• Provide labelling requirements to minimise consumer confusion
• Crackdown on misuse of the words: premium, super, pure, light/lite
• Require substantiation of words describing country/region of origin
• Require substantiation of processing methods (e.g. cold pressed, first extraction)
• Accommodate the natural variations that occur in different countries, olive varieties and regions, without compromising the ability to test and verify quality

Paul Miller, President of the Australian Olive Association, welcomed the standard as a significant step forward for the industry. “The standard promotes and protects authentic products, and puts consumers in a much stronger position when it comes to making informed choices,” Mr Miller said.

For its part, the International Olive Council (IOC) issued a statement in February recommending a reconsideration of the guidelines, calling parts of the olive oil standards possible “barriers to international trade” that could actually make olive oil adulteration “easier”.

The statement, titled “IOC Comments on the Draft Australian/New Zealand Standard Olive Oils and Olive Pomace Oils“, laid out about twenty “discrepancies” — or parts of the proposed standards inconsistent with existing IOC conventions — that included definitions, olive oil categories and testing methods that differ with, or do not exist in the IOC standards. ”It would be expedient,” according to the document, “for the Australian/New Zealand draft standard to be re-examined.”

Regarding the decision to set Australia’s new maximum level of free acidity in extra virgin olive oil at 0.8 percent, in line with the international standards, Mr. Ravetti said personally he is in favor of the idea of lower free acidity levels for EVOO. “But we must remember that the proposed document is the result of consensus reached amongst a large number of stakeholders,” he said. “It seems clear throughout the new document that all changes in comparison with international legislations were introduced only when absolutely necessary and very well supported by technical evidence.”

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This article was last updated January 4, 2015 - 8:40 AM (GMT-5)

  • David

    One has to question why Australian Olive Growers want to establish their own ‘standard’ when there is a long established and clearly defined international standard set by the IOC.  Don’t forget that in 2002 Viva (which claimed to be 100% Australian olive oil) was caught and fined for having up to 50% low-grade imported olive oil.  Australia needs to encourage free and fair trade.  This protectionism will ultimately be bad for consumers by driving prices up and potentially allowing olive oil adulteration to go un-checked.

    • Richard G,

      The Aus chemistry standards for EVOO are by and large exactly the same as the IOC’s. While for many this was disappointing, as there is the belief that many of the IOC standards are set to ensure that the maximum amount of low production cost EU oils that aren’t that great make the EV grade, that is what happened. The BIG differences revolve around correct LABELLING of olive oil grades and what can legitimately be put on a label, e.g.clearly stating how the oil was made, justifiying its shelf life etc. These can only benefit the consumer. The Australian industry in my opinion has done what the IOC should have done 25 years ago – clear up the confusion surrounding grades and give on label advice to consumers. There is a lack of confidence in the EVOO brand in general. While some might accuse the Australians and others of undermining it due to them asking the sort of questions that should have been asked long ago – others like me (who incidentally is also an Australian), argue that standards such as these are the first step in making people accountable for the oils that they put on shop shelves, and that we eventually put in our mouths. That can’t be all that bad. And as an aside, the incident you mentioned happened in the relatively disorganised and primordial stages of the industry and they were caught out. Why? Because then, like now, Australians don’t have a turn the blind eye attitude that pervades much of the EU.

    • Richard Gawel

      Sorry I didn’t read the last bit of your comment.
      “Australia should encourage free and fair trade”. Protectionism? What the? Are you kidding? The standard will apply to all olive oils, domestic, imported or from Mars if ever they are made there. Australia has zero or barely zero import duties, growers don’t get paid subsidies to produce, store or marvel at old trees from roadsides. If you make oil and you can’t sell it then you go broke. Simple as that. Can the same be said of an EU producer?

  • Graham

    The article doesn’t mention that New Zealand was present on the Standard Development Committee, and decided against adopting this standard. So Australia Now has a standard peculiar to any other country in the world.

    • Richard Gawel

      Who exactly is “New Zealand”? Was it the producers? the consumers? or the NZ Grocery Council? (who seems to have been more worried about whether importers had to change some of their labels). Anyway, the (now uniquely) Australian labelling standards will set a benchmark for other countries who care about the rights of consumers to have accurate information about what they eat.

      • Graham

        Richard, your reply is long on rhetoric and short on facts.

        • Richard G.

          Like what exactly?. Could you be more specific? Are you suggesting that EU producers are not subsidiesed to the hilt – from production to non-production to storage. Are you suggesting that Italy doesn’t have huge import duties on packaged EVOO but almost zero or zero for bulk EVOO entering Italy? Are you suggesting that the “ordinary EVOO’ (there term) that makes up the vast majority of the major Italian exporters statistics is not Spanish? Accusations of rhetoric are easy to make, but where is your evidence ‘Graham’? Incidentally since these posts the NZ olive growers have publically announced their disappointment that the NZ grocery council got their way, and the new Australian standards were not adopted in NZ. Also in the last three months, other countries have taken steps to adopt modified by largely similar standards to those adopted in Australia.