Congressman Declares Olive Oil in New York ‘Not Rancid’

Before the United States House of Representatives defeated the Farm Bill Wednesday, congressional members debated, among other things, an amendment to strike a provision from the bill that would impose new restrictions on imported olive oils.

In the end, the amendment to remove the olive oil provision from the bill passed overwhelmingly, hours before the Farm Bill itself was struck down in a partisan vote that drew sharp criticism.

The controversial provision stated that, if a U.S. marketing order were to be adopted for domestic olive oil producers, imported olive oils would need to meet the same standards set forth in the marketing order — and they’d need to take various steps to prove it.

On the same day the Yankees met the Dodgers in Los Angeles for a double header (which they split 1-1) representatives from New York faced off on the House floor with their colleagues from California over olive oil.

Notwithstanding studies showing how little average Americans know about olive oil standards and quality, at least one member of Congress had the confidence Wednesday to declare the state of olive oil excellence across his district.

Michael G. Grimm, a Republican representing Brooklyn and Staten Island, announced to the chamber, “my constituents consume more Greek and Italian olive oil than you could ever imagine, and it’s not rancid.”

Calling the olive oil provision “a multi-million-dollar earmark,” Grimm said distributors, restaurants and consumers in Southern New York “know good oil, and they haven’t had a problem.” Grimm cited a Congressional Budget Office estimate that the import restrictions would cost businesses “tens of millions of dollars.”

“The producers here are the ones with the problems,” Grimm said, referring to producers in California, Georgia and Texas who have been calling for a leveling of the field with importers of subsidized European oils that dominate supermarket shelves and often fail to meet quality standards.

While the New York congressman showed remarkable confidence in his constituents’ knowledge of olive oil, a federal judge on the other side of the East River last month gave consumers little chance of knowing much at all.

In a decision to reject an injunction against an olive oil importer who knowingly sold refined olive pomace oil as “pure,” the US Court of the Southern District of New York in NAOOA v. Kangadis Food Inc. found “no extrinsic evidence that the perceptions of ordinary consumers align with these various labeling standards.” In other words, most consumers don’t know one grade from another, let alone whether an olive oil is good or not.

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This article was last updated October 11, 2014 - 6:23 PM (GMT-5)

  • Patrick

    Problem? What problem? There’s no problem. Do you see a problem?

  • djk

    Grimm’s fairy tale?

  • Hans

    U.S. producers should shift strategy away from the sneaky nonsense. Work on the enforcement of existing guidelines. Tactics like this only waste time.

  • Jon

    Now it’s time to sell our olive oil based on better flavor and not incredibly expensive, detailed chemical analysis that can be thwarted and no consumer understands or cares about anyway.

    • Michael Bradley

      Based on better flavor? U must be joking. Most olive oil consumers, and many producers are as clueless about what well made fresh olive oil tastes like as you appear to be about olive oil chemistry. Even the so called experts don’t agree. Many consumers are so accustomed to fermented slightly rancid olive oil that they mistake the most common defects for attributes. The recent New York olive oil contest where Italian head taster and judge pronounced that well over half of the olive oils entered in the contest from all over the world were defective from a sensory point of view is the reality world wide, and not just in the US. Most consumers have never tasted fresh well made extra virgin olive oil. The fact is that great chemistry parallels great flavor. Experienced tasters can predict the chemistry of extra virgin olive oil and experienced olive oil chemists can predict the sensory characteristics if they know the variety(s). The two go hand in hand, and that is why they are both essential if reliable standards are to be adopted and the fraud brought under control. What we currently have is the olive oil wild west. Fraud is epidemic in the US and abroad. Consumers are being fleeced, and the honest producers of high quality EVO cannot compete with the swill that dominates the industry precisely because consumers don’t know the difference between defective and high quality extra virgin. Many bottlers and producers in Europe, the US, and California depend on the ignorance of the average consumer. If consumers actually had the opportunity to taste fresh well made high quality olive oil alongside what generally passes there would be an olive oil renaissance that would lead to an olive oil revolution world wide.

      • Jon

        You said it yourself Michael, it’s happening, and you do it in your stores everyday. “If consumers actually had the opportunity to taste fresh well made high
        quality olive oil alongside what generally passes there would be an
        olive oil renaissance that would lead to an olive oil revolution world

        It’s not going to be an overnight process, but federal regulation wasn’t necessary to turn people on to good wine.

        • Michael Bradley

          It’s true that experience is invaluable in the sensory arena but the differences between mild and robust olive oil profiles is vast. It has become common practice to soft column refine (deodorize) low quality olive oil and mix it with more robust Extra Virgin oils. Even the most seasoned sensory expert will have a difficult time catching the odorless, tasteless, refined, (sensory defects removed during the refining process), when carefully mixed with good quality EVO. This is why the chemistry part of the test is essential. The PPP and DAG tests will detect the refined or old oil mixed with the good stuff. The current IOC tests are not sophisticated enough to catch the more clever counterfeiters and the frauds know it. This is why the IOC and it’s members are staunchly opposed to adopting the more stringent Australian protocols for testing. If the DAG and PPP test were adopted by US as part of our standard much of the fraud could be spotted. Heavy fines and the cost of recalling substandard counterfeit olive oil would be an effective deterrent.

        • Michael Bradley

          There is a big difference between wine and extra virgin olive oil. No olive oil gets “better” with age. Many, especially new consumers of extra virgin olive oil are consuming because of health concerns around refined seed oils and supposed health benefits of authentic extra virgin olive oil. Old oil and refined olive oil do not have the same nutritional value as fresh high polyphenol EVO. The more bitter, pungent, early harvest oils are simply better from a durability, as well as health and nutrition perspective. ( and the Tuscans, along with most of the better producers of high quality EVO, would argue from a sensory perspective as well), Those looking to avoid disease, cancer patients, and those with cardio vascular disease cannot wait for consumers to get educated and while wine has been parenthetically recommended as somewhat useful as a nutritional substance, wines are never graded based on chemistry, but exclusively by taste. Olive oil is, and should be required to be tested both chemically and from a sensory stand point. The problem is the current IOC sponsored test. The current IOC test is inaccurate and insufficient to guarantee the nutrition, freshness, and sensory attributes of the oil. It is routinely and easily dodged by the industry at large. Using bottling dates instead of harvest dates is a very sly manipulative way of selling old oil that is often rancid, well before it is consumed by the “Best by” date. In addition, the mixing of refined hexane extracted seed oils in the US and abroad is a real concern, especially for those with allergies. The industry is dirty. There is no nice way to put it. Asking importers to do the right thing is an exercise in futility when they can make a buck by easily fudging and cheating. This is the reason why there is so much defective, second rate olive oil being sold as extra virgin in the US.

  • JC

    Another congressman greased / oiled by the trade

  • mongo

    I would liken it to filling up with premium at the pump and it turns out to be tractor fuel. According to them, you should be a chump, don’t make waves and be happy with what you get. mongo

  • A Concerned Citizen

    I doubt Congressman Grimm could taste his way out of a bottle of Bertolli.

  • RachelC

    It is so interesting to see the two takes on this — from the judge who said most know nothing (I agree) and the politician who claims we know all we need to know about how to choose good olive oil and not get robbed. It illustrates why this is such a fascinating subject and why Olive Oil Times can thrive — the fun never ends.

  • Olive oil Tom

    Here’s what all of you DON’T understand…Italy, specifically, has for centuries been importing “defective” olive oil all over the world. In fact, if any of you read the NEW YORKER magazine, you’ll recall an article by Tom Mueller a few years ago about Italian producers “cutting” (adulterating) their oils with refined hazelnut oil and passing it off as extra virgin. Also, please read his book published this past winter, “Extravirginity: the sublime and scandalous world of olive oil” to truly understand why this is important…it can kill people allergic to nut oils. Thus truth in labeling IS important.