American Olive Oil Producers Draft Federal Marketing Order

Adam Englehardt, vice president of California Olive Ranch is among those leading an effort to draft a federal marketing order for olive oil.

American olive oil producers are drafting a federal marketing order that would set higher quality standards, redefine grades and require new testing of all olive oil produced here. If they can get the order adopted by the USDA, industry sources say, domestic producers will push for the rules to apply to imports too.

The effort is the latest in a series of initiatives intended to level the playing field with olive oil importers who have long enjoyed an absence of quality enforcement in the world’s biggest market. The result has been an extra virgin grade with no real meaning, and an American public so accustomed to rancid olive oil, they actually prefer it in taste tests.

A draft of the marketing order (PDF) was first presented at a January conference held in Dixon, California and later discussed at a California State Senate subcommittee informational hearing.

Marketing orders are enforced by the USDA at the request of domestic growers to establish quality standards and pool their resources.

Section 8e of the Agricultural Marketing Agreement Act of 1937 (PDF) provides that when certain domestically produced commodities are regulated by a federal marketing order, imports must also meet the quality standards.

Oranges and tomatoes are among the imported commodities subject to marketing orders under Section 8e, and California olive oil producers will likely be waging a campaign to include olive oil in that group.

An outline of the marketing order was obtained by Olive Oil Times.

While those involved said the draft is being updated continuously as an advisory committee receives feedback from industry stakeholders and grower organizations, some of the main points of the working document are:

  • Sweeping new labeling guidelines including specifications for best-by dates, grades and origin claims
  • Producers would be required to have oils tested using new methods proven to be better at detecting adulteration
  • Oils in the extra virgin grade would need to meet a series of new chemical specifications including a limit of 0.5% for free fatty acidity


California State Senator Lois Wolk (left), Adam Englehardt (California Olive Ranch), Paul Miller (Australian Olive Association), Bob Bauer (NAOOA) and Dan Flynn (UC Davis) at an informational hearing of the California State Senate Subcommittee on Olive oil and Emerging Products on January 26.

In response to the move, the North American Olive Oil Association, which is made up of the largest olive oil importers and distributors, alerted its members to “contact your national representatives,” (PDF) and NAOOA Vice President Eryn Balch called the draft “an attempt to restrict trade by completely eliminating several categories of olive oil, while also imposing rejected test methods on the industry.”

Not surprisingly, some in the domestic industry see it differently. California consultant Alexandra Devarenne said the U.S. industry was “just plain doing the right thing here by allying itself clearly and firmly with quality,” in a move that will benefit all honest traders.

The stakes are big for foreign and domestic producers who see the potential in the huge American market, where even an incremental rise in per capita consumption would provide a much-needed boost for a global olive oil industry roiling in a prolonged pricing crisis, and teetering on the edge of profitability.

The International Olive Council, whose member countries (the U.S. not being one of them) account for more than 98 percent of the global olive oil production, has not commented on the recent developments in California which are at odds with the IOC’s mandate to establish common international rules and “harmonize” laws to facilitate trade.

IOC Executive Director Jean-Louis Barjol has made it a priority for his administration to bring the United States into the ranks of IOC member countries. That prospect seems less likely now, and producers in the U.S. say they have little confidence that the Madrid-based, U.N.-sanctioned organization can bring about meaningful change in an industry long famous for its deceptive practices.

Critics say the current sleight-of-hand wording on labels permitted by the international standard and its lax chemical benchmarks are carefully crafted to facilitate unethical practices like passing deoderized oils off as extra virgin. It only seems more suspicious when representatives of major olive oil companies oppose the use of sensory assessment panels (experts trained to detect defective olive oil samples), calling them “too subjective.”

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This article was last updated October 11, 2014 - 6:42 PM (GMT-5)

  • Costas

    Thank you for saying ”
    quality-conscious producers — in the Old and New Worlds
    ” because there producers who want only to make the best olive oil are in all countries including here in Greece.

  • Phyllis Heard

    US and Australian Quality standards are not for New Zealand olive growers who consistently produce oils well below any parameter this group of self interested Californian /Australian producers have set.
      Paradoxically,their standards are way to high for us at 0.5% FFA and bring into question what is extra virginity? I suspect members of AOCS already know good science can determine oil virginity far more reliably than a US sensory panel deciding on “fruitiness and balance” both very fleeting things in an oxidising oil. 
      Federal Marketing Orders are just another cynical trade protection device US +Australian Horticultural producers are beginning to exploit to gain market share.
       The second major Australian producer went bankrupt because they produced a lot of unsustainable, mediocre oil that could not compete for price with mediocre, unsustainable imported oil.They also “greenwashed”.Consumers of health products worldwide are developing  a “nose” for these things.

    • Rob Mcgavin

      Phyllis, I am suprised that you don’t know or don’t want to know the facts in this debate.  As Australia’s largest producer, I can assure you that achieving the qulaity standards as set out in the Australian Standard is easy and most global producers will not have a problem meeting this standard.  The problem is that numerious studies in countires such as South Africa, Australia, USA and China show that more than half of the Extra Virgin olive oil coming out of Europe is labelled as Extra Virgin but is in fact not. The oils that fail are usually cut with soft column refined / deoderised oil and sometimes other seed oils. The real looser is the consumer and producers of authentic Extra Virgin olive oil…as you know Extra Virgin olive oil is the only main stream cooking oil that has not been refined and is all natural.  New testing methods as used in the Australian standard can detect adulteration so the consumer can also be protected. Surely this is a good idea. 

  • DeOliveira

    We should be striving for the highest quality product.  This is a good thing.

  • Steve Hoffmann

    I credit former California Senator Pat Wiggins with this boom in the desirability of California olive oil.  Her tireless work to insist on high standards has paid off handsomely and California olive oil is now the gold standard!

  • Esantipolio

    the shadow of true is coming over mediterranean sun…If the growers from europe didnt react, the markets will do it…are doing…shadow wil be full soon