`Widespread Backlash Over Refillable Olive Oil Bottle Ban - Olive Oil Times

Widespread Backlash Over Refillable Olive Oil Bottle Ban

May. 22, 2013
Julie Butler

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Silly, crazy, likely to increase costs and waste, and a prod­uct of bureau­cratic med­dling — that’s how the European Union’s immi­nent ban on refill­able olive oil bot­tles on restau­rant tables has been described in media reports around the world.

The strong reac­tion to the move — also evi­dent in the high num­ber of reader com­ments under online arti­cles — has come as a sur­prise to some in the south­ern European coun­tries which voted in favor of the move and where olive oil con­sump­tion is high.

But in north­ern Europe the sur­prise was that Brussels had even con­tem­plated the mea­sure.

Move seen as incom­pre­hen­si­ble, a bur­den

With the euro cri­sis, a col­lapse in con­fi­dence in the EU, and a fal­ter­ing econ­omy, surely the (European) Commission has more impor­tant things to worry about than ban­ning refill­able olive oil bot­tles?” said Martin Callanan, a British Conservative Member of the European Parliament.

Meanwhile Germany’s Suddeutsche Zeitung news­pa­per called the plan the sil­li­est” since the leg­endary curvy cucum­ber reg­u­la­tion.” Questions were also raised about whether other prod­ucts, such as vine­gar, would be next.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said it was incom­pre­hen­si­ble”, an added bur­den for the hos­pi­tal­ity sec­tor and inspec­torate, and bad for the envi­ron­ment, because lots of glass is wasted.”

Fears about dip­ping bowls and small pro­duc­ers

Two other com­mon con­cerns widely aired are whether it spells the end of olive oil dip­ping bowls on tables — the Commission says it doesn’t if other ingre­di­ents such as salt or herbs have been added — and the impact on restau­rant sup­plies from small, local pro­duc­ers.

Even in cri­sis-rid­den Spain, the world’s biggest olive oil pro­ducer and one of the fif­teen coun­tries which backed the move, restau­rant own­ers have lamented they’ll no longer be able to sim­ply buy their olive oil fresh from the mill in the usual five-liter bot­tles.

And small pro­duc­ers say they’ll be unable to afford bot­tling changes, such as to cater for smaller sizes.

The European Commission esti­mates that tam­per-proof seals will add a cost of about three cents per 250ml bot­tle of olive oil, but it has not released details of its cal­cu­la­tions.

Surprise over back­lash

Rafael Sánchez de Puerta, pres­i­dent of the work­ing group on olive oil of European farmer fed­er­a­tion Copa-Cogeca, said the strong reac­tion against the mea­sure had come as a sur­prise.

Perhaps we haven’t explained it well because really it’s a sim­ple mea­sure that is pos­i­tive for every­one.”

The tra­di­tional aceit­eras‘ found on restau­rant tables in coun­tries such as Spain and Italy are detri­men­tal in many ways. Their shape exposes the oil to light over a large sur­face area and the oil is also reg­u­larly exposed to air- two nat­ural ene­mies of olive oil. And the fact that they usu­ally never run out — restau­rants tend to keep top­ping them up from 5l bot­tles of olive oil — is also unde­sir­able, he said.

This is not about intro­duc­ing sin­gle serv­ings or hav­ing to pro­vide a new bot­tle for each patron, it’s about pro­vid­ing a labeled — prefer­ably dark glass — bot­tle, even if it partly empty,” he said.

It’s a poor excuse to say this will increase either cost or waste as the impact in both cases would be neg­li­gi­ble,” he said.

No prob­lem with dip­ping bowls in Portugal

As for dip­ping bowls, Mariana Matos, General Secretary of the Casa do Azeite, Portugal’s Olive Oil Association, said her coun­try had intro­duced such a law in 2005 and there had been no prob­lem.

What the restau­rant has to do is serve the olive oil in front of the client, from an unre­fill­able bot­tle. That way, if the client wants to, they can find out if the oil is extra vir­gin, its ori­gin and expiry date, all the infor­ma­tion that must be on the label.”

If the restau­rant wants to add any­thing, such as herbs, bal­samic vine­gar or flor de sal — which is very pop­u­lar in Portugal — then they can bring the bowl to the table with those ingre­di­ents in it and pour the olive oil at the table or present the ingre­di­ents sep­a­rately.”

That’s been our expe­ri­ence and it’s much more trans­par­ent for the client and much more respect­ful of olive oil, which is a noble prod­uct and usu­ally not well treated in the food ser­vice sec­tor,” Matos said.

The imple­ment­ing reg­u­la­tion cov­er­ing the move did not gain what’s called a qual­i­fied major­ity when voted on last week by an EU com­mit­tee, but it did gain suf­fi­cient sup­port for the Commission to be able to go ahead and adopt it any­way. However, it’s under­stood it can not tweak’ the draft to clar­ify the mea­sure — such as in rela­tion to dip­ping bowls — but must pub­lish it as is.

The ban on refill­able bot­tles was flagged in the action plan for the olive oil sec­tor, released last June by European Commissioner for Agriculture Dacian Cioloş and intended to give the ail­ing sec­tor a boost while also reduc­ing fraud.

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