`Cioloș On Europe's Olive Oil Backflip - Olive Oil Times

Cioloș On Europe's Olive Oil Backflip

May. 24, 2013
Julie Butler

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Amid pub­lic and polit­i­cal out­cry against the move, European Union Agriculture Commissioner Dacian Cioloș yes­ter­day froze his plan to ban refill­able olive oil bot­tles from restau­rant tables. Instead, he pledged to involve him­self directly in new talks on pro­tect­ing con­sumers from olive oil fraud.

Below are excerpts from yes­ter­day’s announce­ment, in which Cioloș explained his ratio­nale for the mea­sure and vision for the future of the sec­tor.

Why the turn­around?

Since last Friday, and this is why I’m speak­ing to you today, there have been a num­ber of quite strong posi­tions adopted against this pro­posed reg­u­la­tion, in par­tic­u­lar from con­sumer coun­tries.

This is a mea­sure which is intended to help con­sumers, inform them prop­erly and make sure they are not mis­lead but it can’t attract, at the moment, broad con­sumer sup­port and that is cru­cial in my view. And so I have decided to with­draw this pro­posal.

What will hap­pen now?

I intend in com­ing days to hold meet­ings with con­sumer rep­re­sen­ta­tives, rep­re­sen­ta­tives of restau­rants, and pro­duc­ers as well, to see how we can bet­ter meet these objec­tives and to find the best instru­ments which would be accept­able broadly and not cre­ate bureau­cracy or any doubts about the under­ly­ing objec­tive.

I wanted to come here today to make this very clear to you, to demon­strate that I’ve been very alive to the cur­rent debate in the press.

…Together with the restau­rants we’ll find the best way to pro­vide bet­ter infor­ma­tion to con­sumers about what they’re eat­ing and to avoid any cheat­ing.

If there really is a prob­lem, why are you with­draw­ing the plan?

I con­cluded, fol­low­ing the debate in the press these last days, that maybe our effort and the effort of the sec­tor was not suf­fi­cient (in regard to) dis­cus­sion with the con­sumer mem­ber states.

…For me it has the same level of impor­tance what the con­sumer mem­ber states think about the future of the olive oil sec­tor (as) the pro­ducer ones.

Isn’t this a polit­i­cal issue as well as a con­sumer one, with the south­ern coun­tries in favor and those in the north against it?

Here we work with very tech­ni­cal argu­ments in the inter­ests of all the con­sumers in the European Union…to debate and define together the bet­ter way and not to force a deci­sion because some mem­ber states are in favor and oth­ers are against.

If most fraud takes place before bot­tling, what was the logic behind such a law?

From the out­set my objec­tive, and also look­ing at the eco­nomic sur­vival of the olive oil sec­tor, was to boost qual­ity, not in an arti­fi­cial way of sup­port­ing olive oil pro­duc­tion if it’s not rec­og­nized and accepted by the con­sumer.

Now we do have cer­tain cases in cer­tain restau­rants where you will find a bot­tle labeled with a cer­tain type of olive oil but once the bot­tle is empty then it’s topped up with other oil. It’s still got the same label but there’s no way of being sure what’s put into the bot­tle is in fact that type of olive oil.

So to avoid this type of sit­u­a­tion we came up with this idea. To make sure, first of all, that the cus­tomer isn’t defrauded.

…But it’s also to stim­u­late pro­duc­ers to make an effort to label their oils and focus on pro­duc­ing qual­ity oils and not just low or medium qual­ity at low price.

We want diver­sity on the European mar­ket but we want pro­duc­ers to be able to live from the price of their prod­uct and in this case the con­sumer has to be sure that he or she gets what they’re really pay­ing for. And that was the orig­i­nal prin­ci­pal behind our pro­posal and not any par­tic­u­lar lobby push­ing us.

Why not treat wine and other prod­ucts the same or leave it up to con­sumers to choose which restau­rants they go to?

What we were look­ing at above all were the links in the chain where there is a risk of fraud or some sort of cheat­ing and we’ve got char­ac­ter­is­tics for the qual­ity of the oil. We didn’t have the tech­ni­cal, ana­lyt­i­cal capac­ity in the past to do this so you’ll see that there’s sev­eral actions in the plan, restau­rants are just one part of it.

Why are we not mak­ing the same pro­posal for wine? Well I think it’s rare to find an open bot­tle on the table when I go to a restau­rant. Normally I order a bot­tle of wine and I drink it dur­ing a meal. Whereas in the case of olive oil you’ve often got a bot­tle on the table, it’s there when you arrive and it’s open, because you’re not going to drink a whole bot­tle of olive oil.

…It’s just one mea­sure, but as I’m say­ing we need more mea­sures upstream of this, and look­ing at pro­duc­ers, bot­tlers and so forth and we’re look­ing at this with no inten­tion of adding red tape. We want to do the min­i­mum to make sure we get the max­i­mum level of con­fi­dence for con­sumers.

(Cioloş was at some times speak­ing in French and at other times in English.)

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