`Cioloş Unveils Plan for Ailing Olive Oil Sector

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Cioloş Unveils Plan for Ailing Olive Oil Sector

Jun. 19, 2012
Julie Butler

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A new grade of olive oil is among changes that could spring from an action plan for Europe’s ail­ing olive oil sec­tor.

Also being dis­cussed are mea­sures to pro­mote qual­ity via bet­ter fraud detec­tion and deter­rence, such as stricter and more fre­quent test­ing; finan­cial incen­tives to reduce frag­men­ta­tion among pro­duc­ers, thereby increas­ing their bar­gain­ing power with large retail chains; and increas­ing the lead­er­ship of the Inter­na­tional Olive Coun­cil (IOC) by admit­ting coun­tries where olive oil is not pro­duced but is con­sumed.

Euro­pean Com­mis­sioner for Agri­cul­ture Dacian Cioloş out­lined the action plan to min­is­ters from the EU pro­ducer coun­tries of Cyprus, France, Greece, Italy, Malta, Por­tu­gal, Slove­nia and Spain in Lux­em­bourg yes­ter­day, say­ing he hoped con­crete changes would be agreed on by the end of July fol­low­ing the coun­tries’ feed­back. The plan was for­mally pre­sented to all 27 mem­ber states at a meet­ing today.

The move comes after months of con­sul­ta­tion with the sec­tor and amid record low pro­ducer prices, falling farm incomes and a huge sur­plus of olive oil this sea­son. The EC has already inter­vened with pri­vate stor­age aid three times in seven months but prices have not budged.

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Cioloş said the plan was designed to give a boost to the sec­tor, which was, para­dox­i­cally, fac­ing struc­tural prob­lems relat­ing to the sale of olive oil although there was con­sid­er­able poten­tial con­sump­tion in Europe and out­side.”

New clas­si­fi­ca­tion

Among the mea­sures he’d like the coun­tries to con­sider is a new clas­si­fi­ca­tion, a dif­fer­ent cat­e­gory so as to bring out more the spe­cific qual­i­ties of the dif­fer­ent oils.”

At the moment we’ve got vir­gin oil and olive oil, but olive oil is a huge cat­e­gory that cov­ers mix­tures of olive oil and olive residue oil, so I think there is room for improve­ment there” Cioloş said.

The plan has so far met a gen­er­ally pos­i­tive reac­tion, though in Spain some have crit­i­cised the lack of con­crete pro­pos­als and mea­sures to pro­vide imme­di­ate help.

The paper, released in French, is split into six sec­tions headed qual­ity con­trol, restruc­tur­ing of the sec­tor, the value chain, pro­mo­tion, the IOC, and com­pe­ti­tion with non-EU pro­ducer coun­tries.

Qual­ity con­trol

In a draft ver­sion of the plan obtained by Olive Oil Times, the qual­ity con­trol sec­tion says there is a need to crack down on deodor­iza­tion, which is used to avoid the detec­tion of infe­rior oils in illicit blends passed off as vir­gin olive oil.

There is also ref­er­ence to an increas­ingly com­pet­i­tive atmos­phere devel­op­ing as coun­tries that are big importers of olive oil also increase their own pro­duc­tion and use test­ing meth­ods other than those rec­og­nized by the Codex Ali­men­ta­r­ius or the IOC, and with ques­tion­able results, par­tic­u­larly with regard to the organolep­tic qual­i­ties of EU exports.”

Some indus­try mem­bers want a tight­en­ing of qual­ity and authen­tic­ity para­me­ters, and improve­ments to the panel test­ing method, the draft paper says, but this must be thor­oughly ana­lyzed in order to make a con­vinc­ing case to the IOC on revi­sion of the olive oil mar­ket­ing stan­dard.

The paper also pro­poses ask­ing the IOC to expe­dite its work on the fol­low­ing four mat­ters:

  • a reduc­tion in the allow­able level of stig­mas­ta­di­ene, to improve detec­tion of other veg­etable oils in olive oil
  • a reduc­tion in the alkyl esters limit, to exclude more deodor­ized oils
  • the defin­i­tive adop­tion of the global method’ for the detec­tion of extra­ne­ous oils in olive oils
  • adop­tion of a method to deter­mine the amount of diglyc­erides and triglyc­erides in olive oils, to com­bat fraud­u­lent blends and assess fresh­ness

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Among other changes floated are increased test­ing and appli­ca­tion of sanc­tions; requir­ing strict adher­ence to EC reg­u­la­tions, such as report­ing to it on irreg­u­lar­i­ties found and sanc­tions applied; and encour­ag­ing all EU mem­ber states to allow only non-refill­able bot­tles to be used for olive oil served in restau­rants.

Label­ing

The prob­lem” of includ­ing a best before date needs fur­ther study, the draft says. First a tech­ni­cal review should take place of changes over time in the physico-chem­i­cal para­me­ters of olive oils.

IOC

The 2005 agree­ment on the oper­a­tion of the IOC expires at the end of 2014. The draft plan pro­poses dis­cus­sion with the IOC on widen­ing the scope of the next agree­ment to cover not only olive oil pro­ducer coun­tries, but con­sumer coun­tries, thereby strength­en­ing the organization’s lead­er­ship.”

For the EU, IOC stan­dards are the bench­mark for inter­na­tional trade. It is best to sup­port the orga­ni­za­tion and to encour­age debates on improv­ing qual­ity to take place within this forum” it says.

Com­pe­ti­tion with non-EU pro­duc­ers

Since the 1990s, there’s been con­sid­er­able increase in pro­duc­tion beyond olive oil’s his­tor­i­cal cra­dle, the Mediter­ranean basin, the draft says.

In what could be a ref­er­ence to coun­tries such as the United States and Aus­tralia, it goes on to say: Some new pro­ducer coun­tries are also major con­sumers of EU oil and have, through their olive oil pro­duc­tion sec­tors, played a key role in the emer­gence of new qual­ity para­me­ters which devi­ate from those of the IOC and instead meet the demands of their own mar­kets.”

The EU should con­tinue to oppose any devi­a­tion from the Codex as well as any move that could act as a tech­ni­cal bar­rier to trade” it says.

Among other mea­sures on the table are allow­ing pro­ducer orga­ni­za­tions to tem­porar­ily take a cer­tain cat­e­gory of oil, such as lam­pante, off the mar­ket when prices are weak for higher qual­ity oils, and to do so with­out breach­ing com­pe­ti­tion laws.

Rea­sons for opti­mism

The EC con­ducted an eco­nomic analy­sis of the sec­tor which noted that olive oil is a healthy prod­uct which should be easy to sell and there were good grounds for opti­mism about the sector’s future, notwith­stand­ing the cur­rent prob­lems with low pro­ducer prices and a big sur­plus.

When faced with large sur­plus stocks in the sugar and wine sec­tors in the past, the EC has paid peo­ple to get out of pro­duc­tion. It’s under­stood that such a scheme — called grub­bing up’ when refer­ring to rip­ping up grapevines — was con­sid­ered but ruled out as inef­fi­cient for the olive oil sec­tor, where many of the least prof­itable plan­ta­tions are also the most exten­sive ones.

This is a break­ing news arti­cle. Check back for updates.



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