Giovanni Zucchi,

president of Assitol, the Italian olive oil industry association

The Italian olive oil sec­tor is liv­ing intense days.

Widely pub­li­cized accu­sa­tions of fraud by famous brands of olive oil sold in Italian super­mar­kets revi­tal­ized a sim­mer­ing debate on the guar­an­tees of authen­tic­ity due to con­sumers and the ade­quate pro­tec­tions deserved by pro­duc­ers.

In an inter­view with Olive Oil Times, the pres­i­dent of Assitol, the Italian olive oil indus­try asso­ci­a­tion, Giovanni Zucchi raised pro­pos­als to reduce ele­ments in the assess­ment of olive oil and pro­tect the rights of key play­ers in the olive sec­tor.

“The great work real­ized by the con­trol bod­ies in recent years,” Zucchi said, “gave rise to a new aware­ness of con­sumers toward the oil indus­try and pro­moted an essen­tial dia­logue which improved the entire sec­tor.”

Regarding the sophis­ti­ca­tion (adul­ter­ation) of olive oil, we believe that today, in Italy, it can be con­sid­ered resid­ual.- Giovanni Zucchi, Assitol

But, he argued, inci­dents like the cur­rent fraud inves­ti­ga­tion unjustly cast a bad light over the entire Italian olive oil sec­tor, “made up of pro­fes­sion­als, small and large pro­duc­ers who strictly apply the rules and have con­tributed over the years to reach an extra­or­di­nary level of qual­ity.”

The sen­sory analy­sis method, based on tast­ing per­formed by experts gath­ered in a panel group, in recent years has pushed the olive oil sec­tor in the direc­tion of a more accu­rate search for qual­ity in addi­tion to bet­ter tast­ing prod­ucts.

Nevertheless, Zucchi said, while the organolep­tic analy­sis rep­re­sents an impor­tant tool in com­bat­ing frauds, dif­fer­ent pan­els often pro­vide dif­fer­ent judg­ments of the same sam­ple, caus­ing a clash between insid­ers and a wake of con­tro­versy in the media.

“Now we ask for a bet­ter appli­ca­tion of the method,” Zucchi sug­gested, “updat­ing it, mak­ing it more effi­cient and above all objec­tive.”

Tasters are not allowed to see what they taste, while the panel leader can see which olive oil is under eval­u­a­tion, Zucchi said, and this ele­ment can some­times dam­age the required impar­tial­ity: “We pro­pose to insti­tute a blind test in the first tast­ing, fol­lowed by a sec­ond blind counter-test,” — sug­ges­tions that Assitol sub­mit­ted to the Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry that has been inves­ti­gat­ing coun­ter­feit­ing.

“Our sec­ond pro­posal regards the sur­vey of chem­i­cal mark­ers for the iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of organolep­tic defects,” to con­firm the results of tast­ing. He said Assitol is ready to finance a research project to iden­tify undis­putable chem­i­cal data. (Such research, of course, has been ongo­ing at the inter­na­tional level for years by the International Olive Council, Codex Alimentarius the American Oil Chemists’ Society and oth­ers).

“Regarding the sophis­ti­ca­tion (adul­ter­ation) of olive oil, we believe that today, in Italy, it can be con­sid­ered resid­ual,” Zucchi insisted. In the last months, of the 6,000 inves­ti­ga­tions of Ministry of Agriculture only two per­cent of cases resulted in a vio­la­tion of law. “I believe that the fight against coun­ter­feit­ing can be com­pleted, revis­ing the rules at the European level.”

Giovanni Zucchi sug­gested more improve­ments. “Monitoring the out­flows of olive oil from mills will per­mit an ade­quate con­trol of pro­duc­tion and com­mer­cial­iza­tion while a con­stant sur­vey of the out­flows from indus­trial fac­to­ries will deter­mine how much respon­si­bil­ity for dete­ri­o­ra­tion in the qual­ity of prod­ucts can be attrib­uted to a bad preser­va­tion by the dis­trib­u­tors. A small defect in con­ser­va­tion, e.g. an excess of heat or light, can be enough for an olive oil to be no longer clas­si­fied as extra vir­gin.”

Moreover, Assitol has pro­posed a revi­sion of the cat­e­gories of olive oil. “A review of the cat­e­gories of olive oil can be the right approach to inte­grate the research of qual­ity with the needs of the mar­ket. Extra vir­gin has, in fact, a promi­nent role, which mar­gin­al­izes all other types of olive oil.”

New clas­si­fi­ca­tions should focus on the diver­sity of uses of the dif­fer­ent olive oils: “Among EVOOs, we would con­sider two main prod­ucts: cook­ing oil, with a lower price, and dress­ing oil, with a higher price. Virgin olive oil would be rec­om­mended for fry­ing, while pomace olive oil would con­tinue to lead the mar­kets of coun­tries that do not know nor use extra vir­gin olive oil.”

Rethinking the cat­e­gories would make it nec­es­sary to review the para­me­ters of cook­ing oil which would be broad, and those of sea­son­ing olive oil, which would be more strin­gent, Zucchi explained.

“This rev­o­lu­tion, how­ever, needs a debate between insti­tu­tions and pro­duc­ers and it is only a small tile of a great mosaic includ­ing also, for exam­ple, the reduc­tion of acid­ity for extra vir­gin olive oil. But first of all the review of the panel test,” Zucchi con­cluded.


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