International Olive Council Studying Oils Beyond the Limits of its Standard

In 2008, the International Olive Council’s group of expert chemists designed a study to gain a better understanding of olive oils that displayed certain parameters beyond the limits allowed in the council’s trade standards adopted five years earlier.

IOC members and non-members including the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Chile and Argentina were offically invited, via a 2009 Note Verbale, to help identify the unique characteristics of their regional olive oils in a common effort to improve the international standard, protect olive oil authenticity and “prevent potential fraud,” according to the council’s Executive Secretariat.

The IOC said it had since made repeated requests for samples to analyze, even while some New World producers were busy drafting their own standards to be more in line with local characteristics. Meanwhile the IOC, which admitted its calls for action had yielded “varying degrees of success,” plans on presenting the conclusions of the study to the Council of Members for approval at its 100th session in November, 2012.

The samples they did manage to collect were reviewed last week in the IOC offices at a meeting of the council’s working group on olive oil composition — part of the biannual meeting of expert chemists that assemble in Madrid to discuss a range of chemistry and standards-related business.

At this session the group examined new testing methods, discussed the results of recent studies and proposed priorities for future work.

It was their first meeting since Australia officially eschewed international olive oil standards by adopting its own guidelines, creating a new market segment for olive oil exporters throughout the world. According to an IOC spokesperson, the chemists assembled last week “agreed on the importance to bring standards into line with eachother in order to promote quality, encourage international trade and protect consumers.”

Although they were invited, and have attended past sessions, representatives from Australia, the USDA, FDA, the California Olive Oil Council and the University of California at Davis were absent from the meeting this year.

Attendees included representatives from Algeria, Argentina, Spain, France, Greece, Italy, Portugal, Slovenia, Egypt, Iran, Israel, Jordan, Morocco, Syria, Tunisia, Turkey, as well as from the American Oil Chemists’ Society, Codex Alimentarius, International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and the European Commission.

The group proposed presenting the method for the determination of sterols and triterpene dialcohols for definitive IOC adoption next month. The same method would be adopted by the ISO for olive oils.

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This article was last updated November 22, 2014 - 5:31 PM (GMT-5)

  • Brian Feldman

    The reality is that Australia doesn’t matter. They can legislate that olive oil needs to be purple without affecting the world market. 

    As for the U.S. we will see if the USDA and FDA have the same taste for protectionism.

    • Richard G.

      Australia has zero import duty on olive oil. No farm subsidies, no production subsidies and no storage subsidies. If you make it and you can’t sell it then you go broke! Furthermore, the new Australian standards apply to all olive oils whether domestically produced or imported. So where is the protectionism in that? I think the EU could learn a lot about free trade by looking at us (the Aussies).

      And incidentally while Australia only has 1/15 the population of the US, per capita we use a lot of olive oil – 3 times the average American. So what really concerns some is 1) that we are an affluent western country, 2) we use a lot of olive oil, and 3) the concept that good EVOO can only be made around the Mediterranean is rapidly being questioned and dismembered.

      The domestic sales figures show this. Australian oils take up a lot of supermarket shelf space – typically the same or more than the imported product, and their sales growth has outstripped that of EU oils for many years. Just good solid oils competing against heavily subsidised EU producers. The consumers are voting with their $AU.

      • Brian Feldman

        Australia’s actions amount to a racket.

        You are requiring labelling like nowhere else in the world and set chemical benchmarks to mirror local profiles.  You have made it virtually impossible for foreign producers to do business there. 

        What you’re seeing in Australia is unabetted protectionism, plain and simple.

        The AOA have successfully utilized Standards Australia and the media to construct a virtual embargo.

        That practice might work on an isolated island, but it won’t fly in the markets that matter.

        • Richard G.

          An example of exactly how better truth in labelling is harmful to anyone, or how they favour local producers would be nice. Lots of hot air about protectionism but not a single hard example of where or how they will add more costs to the imported product compared with the domestic. Everyone, repeat everyone is the same boat.

          And I’ll reiterate – Australia has no import duties on olive oil, and does not subsidies producers in any way or form. Compare that to the EU with subsidies for owning trees (not even making oil), and subsidies for storing oil.

          Furthermore, the standards were drafted by a committee that represented producers, importers, the idependent consumer association, and government bodies representing consumer matters and agriculture.. it was followed by an extensive consultative process, whereby it received and considered over 600 writtern submissions from all around the world. So suggestions of some conspiracy are just plain ludicrous.

  • Les Parsons

    I am not sure which country Brian Feldman lives in. Also whether or not he is an importer of olive oil from the Meditaranian countries. I fully agree with Richard G’s statements. The subsidy systems as everyone knows have been rorted for years in Europe. Truth in labeling, has been for many years a non compliance mainly with Italy.
    As Richaed G states it was the whole of industry, including importers and government that put together the standards.
    Yes, Australia will not effect the world market, but you mark my words. The consumer will bring pressure to bear on European marketers to bring standards into line very closely with Australian Standards. Todays consumers are a lot wiser than in the past when it comes to food and oils.
    The web has also opened up consumers eyes in this regard also. 
    So “eat your heart out” Brian.

  • Fgobbee

    If you know someone who is the source for this article it will be good to let them now that Argentina is IOC member and it is the only country from Southern Hemisphere that have been working and lobbying from inside IOC to modify standards

    • Richard Gawel

      Good luck with that.

  • David

    A great shame that the US and Australians were not to be seen at this year’s IOC meeting. Just read the Tom Mueller book to see why. If the olive oil world is to send out clear and unequivocal messages on the quality of olive oil then all producing countries need to adopt the same standards.