In Olive Council Memorandum, ‘Unease’ Over Australian Standards

Back in January when Australia and New Zealand proposed new olive oil standards that departed from those established by the International Olive Council, the IOC issued a statement calling the measure a possible “barrier to trade” while recommending a reconsideration of the move.

The statement, titled “IOC Comments on the Draft Australian/New Zealand Standard Olive Oils and Olive Pomace Oils,” laid out about twenty “discrepancies” that included definitions, olive oil categories and testing methods in the proposed guidelines that differed with, or did not exist in the IOC standards. “It would be expedient,” the IOC said, “for the Australian/New Zealand draft standard to be re-examined.”

So last month, when the new voluntary rules were adopted by Standards Australia (New Zealand decided not to sign on) eyes turned to the IOC for what was expected to be a sharp rebuke.

That rebuke has arrived. In a copy of a formal memorandum obtained by Olive Oil Times and sent by the Executive Secretariat of the Council last week to Standards Australia, Codex Alimentarius and Australia’s agriculture and foreign affairs ministries, the IOC laid out what it sees as a troubling development.

While Australia is not a member of the intergovernmental organization, it nevertheless takes part in IOC activities and is kept “permanently informed about its work,” begins the memorandum.

Calling the development of definitions and analytical characteristics included in trade standards “one of the most significant regulatory tasks” of the IOC, the ducument proceeds to outline efforts undertaken by the United Nations sanctioned organization under that mandate.
See more: IOC Memorandum
One such initiative is the yearly meeting of the IOC group of expert chemists from around the world, including Australia, to scrutinize and improve testing methods (that meeting will be held next week in Madrid, and one of the topics of discussion will be the Australian standards, according to a participant familiar with the agenda). Changes to the international standards are made, the IOC explains in the “light of scientific advances,” and with broad agreement, to enhance olive oil quality and “ensure transparency in international markets.”

Working with international organizations including Codex Alimentarius, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and the World Trade Organization, the IOC has made “enormous efforts” to achieve harmonization with those bodies toward consumer health protection and fair trading. In that spirit, the IOC letter explains, it has also worked with Australian associations to implement a quality control program to “undertake product quality control at recognized laboratories using updated methods.”

Those methods would not have included measuring pyropheophytins or diglycerides — two limits determined in the new Australian guidelines and identified in the IOC memorandum as significant departures from the established international standard.. According to the American Oil Chemists’ Society, testing for pyropheophytins helps to detect thermally treated olive oils and to estimate the age of the oil, while 1,2-diglycerides is a characteristic of fresh olive oil.

The IOC also argues that the Australian standard’s higher limits of campesterol, which can indicate the presence of seed oils, could result in more adulterated olive oil on the market if other restrictions are not adjusted accordingly. And Australia’s new product designation guidelines which, for example, disallow classifications such as “pure” and “light,” will confuse consumers and hinder trade.

The IOC note verbale, or diplomatic communication, closes by calling on the various organizations to help stop “unfair trading practices or potential trade barriers, to achieve more transparent trading, to combat fraud and to protect consumers through the harmonization and fulfillment of the international standards.”

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This article was last updated November 14, 2014 - 8:11 AM (GMT-5)

  • Richard G.

    Here we go again. I haven’t done a word count of the new Australian standards, but on face value it seems that about 90% of the Australian standards refer to truth in labelling.

    That is, the standards go a long way to ensuring that oils that say
    that they are from country x are acutally grown and made in country x,
    and that if an oil is refined then the consumer is told that it is
    refined. .. not that it is ‘pure’ or ‘light’.

    Why does the IOC appear to fear this when when they claim to be consumer focussed?

    I suggest that they oppose it because other countries like Canada, Germany, Russia, India and China and (God forbid) the USA might just follow suit. For, no matter what spin is put on restriction of trade and the like (15,000 tonnes AUS vs 2 million tonnes EU), Australia is a major consumer nation of EU olive oil, just like the other nations mentioned.

    And as everyone knows = precedents can be a very dangerous thing.

  • Christian Gertz

    The official European Standard for Olive Oil failed many times to detect adulterated olive oils. Tests done by Test journals in Germany, Switzerland and several tests in US during the last 3 years have demonstrated that many olive oils in the supermarket are thermally treated, blend with foreign oils oder very old olive oils. In general more than 20 – 30 % of the olive oils are estimated to be adulerated. or having a bad flavor (rancid)
    The reason is, that the European Standard are more than   twenty years old but the analytical possibilities, technology of pressing, harvesting and growing have been changed since 1991.

    • Phyllis Heard

      It is easy in any “New World” olive producing  country to do the full range of laboratory tests for an extra virgin Olive oil. Under Gov food safety requirements this should be mandatory, and an essential public health precaution as the Spanish experience shows when industrial rapeseed oil was named as the culprit for their major  public health crises. Robust Country of Origin labelling should be our industries focus world wide. The Eu permit a health claim for polyphenols these should be on  labels as an indicator of the shelf life of an extra virgin olive oil.Why is that so hard?  

  • John

    Truth in labelling is one of the MAJOR problems with the current IOC system. The country of origin is not shown (Italy reportedly exports far more olive oil than it produces – and uses quite a bit also! The imported “fruit juice” attracts lower tariffs and the resulting “product of italy” olive oil can be exported at high profit returns.
    The Standard is a significant step in requiring olive oils to be labelled as exactly what they are!

    • Stoneground

      Hello John,

      While I agree that there is an epidemic of cheating and lying in terms of place of origin, I believe that the big lie is not that such and such olive oil comes from such and such a place and does not.  The Big Lie is that oil is automatically “better” if it does come from a certain place, and this myth enables, encourages and rewards the deception. 

      Consumers of olive oil have been intentionally taught to ask the wrong questions and place far too much significance on what amounts to the marketing projects of producing nations and regions. To fixate on a place and ignore the far more significant and objective indicators like Variety, Production Date, actual FFA, PV, % of oleic acid, Polyphenol count, and DAG score, (which is a far more accurate indicator of quality than any single chemical stat currently in use by the IOC or any other trade organization in  the world, including New Zealand, and California.   

      In addition, fixating on a place tends to reinforce the myth that where the oil is made is a better indicator of quality that the measurable chemistry and discernible facts.  A huge part of the problem with standards is that their advocates all have an agenda and with most advocates what they want colors what they see.

      Gertz may have an agenda but he is not a producer and does not come from a producing nation.  His agenda has been to protect the German public from second rate fraudulently mislabeled olive oil that has been flowing into Germany while meeting the IOC “standards” for the grade. This river of defective olive oil is everywhere olive oil is sold including the countries where it is produced. It amounts to a trade barrier to anyone attempting to produce authentic extra virgin olive oil. 

      Michael Bradley

  • Stoneground

    The Trade Organization known as the IOC represents both the producers of refined lampante and the giant bottlers who then sell it to unsuspecting consumers under misleading names like “lite” and “Pure” olive oil.   They are fearful that the truth about what they sell and how they make “IT” will become common knowledge.  They are right to be fearful because they know that as consumers begin to understand how they have been misled into buying and consuming odorless, colorless, tasteless fat, (100% of the antioxidants, (polyphenols, flavor and aroma are destroyed as a result of the refining process), that they will react accordingly.  The BIG LIE will finally be exposed. The long standing legal fraud will be apparent, and there will be a revolution in the industry; a revolution that is long overdue.  Chemists like Christian Gertz have done consumers and producers of the genuine article everywhere a great service by exposing what has got to be the most cynical and corrupt group of hypocrites on the planet.  The lie began over a century ago when “refined olive oil” was invented in response to the falling price of other less expensive fuel oils and electricity that replaced it as the primary source of light and lamp oil. Consumers have no idea that up until that time lampante olive oil was used as fuel oil. It remains unfit for consumption by humans, (unless it is first refined) and was not sold as edible food.  The fact is that refined olive oil has far more in common with refined seed oils like canola, safflower, soy, and sun, and from a sensory standpoint is indistinguishable from these refined oils. The big difference is price.  Refined olive oil sells for close to 90% ( and sometimes more), of the price of virgin olive oil. Refined seed oils like soy, canola, and sun sell for a fraction of that price.  Since over half the olive oil that is produced in Europe ends up being some form of refined mixture, the IOC and sellers of refined olive oil are desperate to keep the public in the dark.   

  • Phyllis Heard

    The best test for an Extra vIrgin Olive Oil? The EU have finally allowed health claims to be based on Polyphenols.This has created a much needed sea change for Extra Virgin Olive oil standards evrywhere. Listing polyphenols/antioxidants  on labels certified by EU/Codex Alimentarius  laboratories will assure Governments and consumers  that they are buying a healthy,fresh product that will not go rancid within stated “use by dates” which most producers currently claim is 2 years. A fair stretch for the more delicate oils being sold and really a public health and food safety issue.

    As  New Zealand growers and as co-ordinators of an Olive Mill co-op and a Grower co-op we are very wary of Australian involvement and their selective use of ‘research”in our very healthy industry.We are amazed that this publication states that they started out as Australian and New Zealand standards. Many New Zealand growers will be surprised by this.

    NZ is currently being deluged by cheap  extra virgin olive oil from Australian Supergroves on our Australian owned supermarket shelves.It is testing to be of similar standard and shelflife  as many Spanish+Italian “imports” from similar “hot”climate zones that so exercise the energies of New World olive oil gurus arguing for “superior”ultra premium standards. All our extensive testing to EU/Codex Alimentarius and IOC  standards shows that our local oil is on average unless blended with Australian or other imported oils is of a very high standard the only problem it appears to have is that it is too ‘Tuscan” in style  according to Australian judges and experts and  that it is not  as “food friendly”as Australian supergrove oil.
    The organoleptic testing and so called objective, robust “research” carried out by the Australian laboratories and UC Davis IOC testing panels are influenced very strongly by Australian “experts”.The  Australian influence features strongly on the panel and behind the scenes at the Los Angeles International awards 2011 who chose Cobram Estate as their  winner this year.

    All this  makes us very concerned as to their “objectivity”. It is not just the IOC with a credibility problem. New Zealand apple producers are well aware of the extent Australian grower organisations will go to to put up Trade Protection Barriers against NZ’s naturally high antioxidant sustainably grown healthy fruit in spite of free Trade agreemenst and against WTO findings.

    The UC Davis/Australian Olive oil organoleptic “research”ironically uses the IOC fault tests and also decide on the very culturally biased “fruitiness and balance”in a given oil. One of the laboratories carrying out this “research” is owned by Modern Olives a subsidiary of Boundary Bend and Cobram estate.The proposed new voluntary standards being offered by the Australian Olive Growers Association for imported oils are seen by smart NZ growers as a local trade protection device that  real, robust testing,legally enforced Country of Origin  labelling and food safety requirements will show there is no  need for.

    New Zealand olive growers with any sense will not sign Australian Olive Association voluntary standards.As the IOC point out in their “rebuke” they are designed to allow for raised campesterol levels which Australian “researchers” have publically declared are naturally high in Australian and New Zealand oils of the Barnea/Koreneiki varietals and recommend high campesterol should  be promoted as a “healthy attribute”.

    The Australian Olive Association seems far too focused on Boundary Bends/Cobram Estate interests.We do not see why artisan Australian and Californian Olive growers and producers are promoting so vigorously the new Australian  standards while condemning  IOC standards at the expense of their own industry. The Artisan olive producers in the “New World’ really concerned for integrity,honesty and robust extra virgin standards should  learn from New Zealands experience that most “experts” can be replaced by Laboratory tests and good consumer education explaining why extra virgin olive oil is truly the “healthy” oil.

    Putting all  marketing efforts into attacking the IOC and promoting frivolous Olive oil awards with questionable judging standards at the expense of health promotion is crazy in an already beleagured industry with a glut of bulk oxidising EVOO oil in  storage.

    A question all  growers should be asking of the IOC is…Can an oil with very low PV, low FFA and healthy  Polyphenol/antioxidant levels that is certified to be free of pesticide/fungicide residues  really be deemed “faulty” by an IOC certified sensory panel? Certifying an oil “faulty” in an Australian and New Zealand IOC certified laboratory  is as easy as falling off a log if vested interests with conflicts of interest  continue to control the “sensory science”. What happens to IOC standards then? The Emperor has no clothes!  

    • Stoneground

      Hello Phyllis Heard,

      “Your zeal is invaluable if a right one.  However, if wrong the greater the zeal the greater the evil.” It’s pretty obvious that you would rather promote IOC sanctioned swill, with a high polyphenol count than any well made Australian extra virgin olive oil. (or any well made extra virgin olive oil with a medium PPH count).  From the tone and tenure of your posts you harbor a debilitating resentment towards Australian producers and particularly those that attempt to produce EVO oil efficiently. I’ve wondered why someone as articulate and informed as yourself would chose to support a corrupt system and trade organization like the IOC over your neighbor who is clearly producing oil of a higher overall quality than any single country in Europe (including Italy); The same neighbor that is pushing alone in the world for reform of the intentionally misleading standards that clearly support the production of substandard quality in the world and industry. How I wish producers in California were willing to summon half the commitment and courage that Boundary Bend has shown. The current IOC standards and practices particularly damage all non EU farmers including those from New Zealand far more than anything happening in Australia.  It seems to me that you are on the wrong side of this fight and arguing against the interests of your own farmers.  Why would you see Australia and Boundary Bend as a greater threat than the IOC? The IOC trade organization (and the standards they promote) is responsible for the abysmal price and quality that threatens to destroy every honest producer in the world of high quality olive oil. (especially those outside the EU not receiving the government subsidy, without which the price of extra virgin olive oil would certainly soar).   The increase in world market prices would help to create and promote the production of high quality olive oil in New Zealand and the rest of the world . The fact that you choose to spend your considerable time, talent, and energy attacking the biggest single threat that the corrupt IOC and the large bottlers like SOS and Sovena have ever faced, strikes me as curious and masochistic.  My guess is that because you are incapable or unwilling to do the serious work and or make the serious investment required to be an efficient producer that you instead attack anyone who is making progress in that direction as a cover.  Instead you hyper focus on the one important area where you excel, and attempt to make that the center piece of all discussions concerning olive oil quality.  It’s not that simple; and while I value high polyphenol counts there is much more to quality than this alone, and I think you know it.  Your attacks smack of jealousy, bitterness and resentment. In addition, your personal assaults on principled and honorable individuals that I know is unattractive and seriously weakens your otherwise considerable voice. Some of the accusations you have made against honest olive oil producers are slanderous and demonstrably false. It’s easy to make high polyphenol count olive oil inefficiently.  Last year in Tunisia we produced early harvest Chemlali with a PPH of 523. This year in a farm in Chile we produced a Picual with a PPH of 620 and it was done using some of the same techniques employed and created by Boundary Bend. The two primary reasons why more New Zealand olive oil is not produced, recognized, and exported is price and availability.  I’ve tried on several occasions to purchase and import to the states New Zealand olive oil and was told the last time that the cost to get the fruit off the tree was more than we were then paying to bring high grade Ultra Premium oil from Tuscany.  That price was 6.00 US per liter. The farmer told me that he could not produce his oil for less than 10.00 US per liter.  There is something wrong with this picture and it has less to do with quality and more to do with infrastructure, knowledge, scale, investment, and growing conditions.  Finally, If making olive oil with high polyphenol levels is the sole criteria for measuring quality we may as well start focusing on the production of olive water and using the oil as a by product.  The concentration of polyphenols, (hydroxy tyrosol in particular) is much higher in the olive water than the oil.  ( some reports suggest 50 times higher)  A good part of the attraction for well made oil is taste.  Those with good taste generally appreciate a wide variety of profiles including delicate, fruity, subtle, and aromatic.  If you feel I’ve been unfair or overly harsh in my criticism perhaps you’re right.  I am willing to listen to any reasonable argument you are can provide that is civil and fact based.  The last thing I would like to say is, “I wish you were on our side.”  Michael Bradley

      • Richard


        this is the most hilarious thesis I’ve ever read.  After reading all the comments, including your suggestions that Phyllis is jealous, bitter and resentful, I point you to look at yourself.  Your words are full of anger and jealousy.  Unfortunately, they are also full of misinformation, obviously driven by a close business relationship or friendship with Boundary Bend (their influence over your words is telling).  You may want to do some of your own research instead of replicating the message of a company that accounts for around 60% of Australia’s production, is 10 times bigger than its closest local competitor and is clearly the primary influencer in all the olive oil media coming out of Australia. 

        The IOC is not a corrupt organisation looking after the EU countries, in fact it represents members comprising over 97% of global production of olive oil, including many countries in non-EU Europe, Middle East, Africa, South America.  Australia accounts for only ~0.6% of global production, and yet instead of working to help evolve IOC standards to better allow for high-campesterol extra virgin olive oils, they would propose to launch new standards that attempt to undo the long work of many to create a platform for fair competition and free global trade.  What a huge step backwards in the development of civilisation…protectionism at its best!

        Are the IOC standards perfect?  No, they are not.  But is the IOC corrupt? How ridiculous to suggest they are. 

        Incidentally, the government subsidies in the EU that you are talking about have long been gone.  Get your facts straight.

        The stark reality is that in the end consumers vote with their feet.  Good olive oil is worth paying for…is your olive oil not worth paying for?

      • Richard Gawel

        A very cogent reply to a very vocal (and granted, passionate) commentator. The only think that I would like to add is that just imagine how limiting it would be if you only had the choice of one type of EVOO.

  • Les Parsons

    Testing in Australia also has also revealed adulteration,and untruth in labeling. We have seen major supermarkets selling oil as EVOO when actually it is not. The standards are put in place to ensure that not only Australian producers must comply, but imported oils from overseas. Too long have the European producers rorted a weak system that has been supported by the ECU. 
    If they don’t like our standards, so be it.

  • Steven Horton

    The market wants the truth put simply.
    Growers have for years been robbed by the refiners, packers & marketing groups.
    Government (yes the people) loose because they can not afford the health expenses as a consequence of the epidemics and the higher numbers suffering from diabetes, heart, liver, and cancer diseases.

    The chefs can taste & test the oil. They know whats good, bad and evil – but they have no say as the decisions are with the procurers.

    Procurers are the retail buyers and purchasing officers that are poorly trained. The retail buyers & purchasing officers can not taste, can not bake, cook, fry, make a stew, curry, noodles, rice, wontons or a simple Wok dish. They can not read a label. They buy on price.

    The owners of buildings that lease the hotels & restaurants want higher rents from the share in the business turnovers so they too, are simply guilty.

    The rules have to come from the responsible parties that are not in existence because of the named parties here.

    The IOC is a body of people that are secretly connected, they have to live after all. There must be a number of bullies in the IOC that are upholding its sad existence.

    The Malay, Italian & Spanish Court have been revealing the truth but they are not stopping the continuance. The truth does not bring all the necessary changes. As the offending parties or their clones are still in existence.

    The solutions are a number of solutions. The one I like the most is where licensed independent laboratories can complete in the one building all of the possible chemical tests with the most accurate reliable recordable equipment using fresh indicators & reagents so that the truth can be determined by the people that want the truth.