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Extra Virgin Vigilance in Australia

May. 30, 2012
Julie Butler

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Australia’s con­sumer watch­dog has fined a local olive oil pro­ducer for alleged mis­la­bel­ing and promises more action on fake extra vir­gin olive oils.

On May 8, The Big Olive Company paid two infringe­ment notices totalling $13,200 (US $12,900) for labelling prod­ucts as extra vir­gin olive oil’ that the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission found were not.

The South Australian com­pany was also in the news back in February when a TV pro­gram claimed test­ing showed its olive oils were sub­stan­dard and old.

Tests com­mis­sioned by the ACCC found last December that sam­ples from a batch of the company’s Oz Olio” had a free fatty acid level of 0.9 per­cent while under var­i­ous olive oil trade stan­dards for extra vir­gin olive oil, includ­ing the vol­un­tary Australian one, the max­i­mum is 0.8 per­cent.

A high free fatty acid con­tent indi­cates that the olives used to make the oil were old, dam­aged or oth­er­wise of poor qual­ity and the oil was not extra vir­gin olive oil at the time of bot­tling, the ACCC said in a press release.

Consumers should be able to trust that what’s on the label is what’s in the bot­tle,” ACCC chair­man Rod Sims said.

Australian Standard

The ACCC com­mis­sioned inde­pen­dent test­ing of seven oils — four imported and three domes­ti­cally-pro­duced — after com­plaints from the Australian Olive Association (AOA) that many oils sold in Australia as extra vir­gin olive oil weren’t gen­uine. The other oils tested had free fatty acids lev­els within the accept­able lim­its.

The analy­sis included per­ox­ide value, UV absorbance, 1,2‑diacylglycerols, pyropheo­phytin a, stig­mas­ta­di­ene con­tent, wax con­tent, fatty acids pro­file and sterols but, accord­ing to the Weekly Times, Sims said the ACCC believed only the free fatty acids part of the inter­na­tional and Australian olive oil stan­dards would hold up in court.

Mr. Sims said the pub­lic would have to accept the Australian stan­dard as its bench­mark before the ACCC could begin mak­ing pros­e­cu­tions based on that stan­dard, unless the gov­ern­ment made the stan­dard law,” it reported, adding that Australian Olive Association CEO Lisa Rowntree was angry” the ACCC did not use the vol­un­tary Australian stan­dard as its test ref­er­ence.

The ACCC says it is con­sid­er­ing broader con­cerns raised by the AOA about extra vir­gin olive oil claims and the use of other descrip­tors of olive oil prod­ucts” and has con­tacted it about ensur­ing greater clar­ity in label­ing and that con­sumers are able to make informed pur­chas­ing deci­sions.”

The fine was under sec­tion 29(1)(a) of the Australian Consumer Law, which pro­hibits false or mis­lead­ing rep­re­sen­ta­tions that goods are of a par­tic­u­lar stan­dard, qual­ity, value, grade, or com­po­si­tion.

The Big Olive Company has yet to respond to a request for com­ment. Though it has paid the infringe­ment fine, this is not an admis­sion of a con­tra­ven­tion of Australian Consumer Law.

A real estate site is adver­tis­ing a 1103ha of Big Olive prop­erty — which includes 100,000 olive trees, a state-of-the art pro­cess­ing facil­ity” and three estab­lished brands — as for sale.

Kailis Organic Olive Farms Attracting Asian Interest

Also on the mar­ket in Australia are four rural prop­er­ties from the failed Kailis Organic Olive Group. According to Property Observer, receivers KordaMentha say there is strong inter­est in the farms from local syn­di­cates of high-net-worth indi­vid­u­als, super funds and Asian investors.”

Combined, the four prop­er­ties have a value of around $20 mil­lion (US $19.54m) but can be bought sep­a­rately, it says.

Aussie har­vest down this year

Meanwhile, Rowntree sep­a­rately told the Weekly Times the har­vest was in full swing across south­ern Australia’s olive groves, with grow­ers report­ing yields up to 60 per cent lower than last year but good oil qual­ity and higher extrac­tion rates.



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