Some View EU Olive Oil Decree as 'Last Straw' in Brexit Vote

When British citizens cast their historic vote tomorrow to stay in Europe or leave the Union, many will be thinking about overreaching mandates like the ban on cruets in restaurants.

Jun. 22, 2016
By Wendy Logan

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As part of a host of sweep­ing reg­u­la­tions put forth by the EU’s Commissioner for Agriculture in 2013, serv­ing olive oil in open, refill­able cruets and con­tain­ers on restau­rant tables was to be banned. The mea­sure was rep­re­sen­ta­tive of a series of new and over­ar­ch­ing pro­to­cols and pro­ce­dures designed to be adopted by the entirety of the European Union.

Not all coun­tries were on board and some have been bristling against being told by EU’s gov­ern­ing body how to run their busi­nesses in what they still con­sider to be sov­er­eign ter­ri­tory. The push-back on this topic rep­re­sented a micro­cosm of some of the issues that under­lie Great Britain’s upcom­ing Brexit” vote. Tomorrow, the United Kingdom will vote on whether or not to exit the 28-nation Union alto­gether.

Was the olive oil decree the last straw?

In May, 2013, Julie Butler reported in Olive Oil Times that coun­tries who favored the new rules for serv­ing olive oil included, not sur­pris­ingly, the ter­ri­to­ries where much of the world’s high­est qual­ity olive oils are pro­duced — Italy, Spain, France and Greece, among them. Voting against the move were nine coun­tries, while the UK abstained.

But in a post on ABC News, the AP’s Raf Casert pointed directly to the olive oil con­tro­versy as an exam­ple of the under­ly­ing resent­ment that may be fuel­ing the British Euroskeptics who have railed for years against what they see as the EU’s exces­sive intru­sion into daily life with a long list of petty rules.” Here was a case in point of over­reach that promised to irri­tate every­one who loves to dip crusty bread into oil,” he said.

The rule required food-serv­ing busi­nesses through­out the EU to use only care­fully pack­aged and labeled olive oils in non-reusable con­tain­ers, their ori­gin and make-up clearly marked. The goal of the mea­sure was to set stan­dards for a cat­e­gory fraught with coun­ter­feits and con­tro­versy. They were designed, as noted in Butler’s arti­cle, to bet­ter pro­tect and inform con­sumers while ensur­ing the qual­ity and authen­tic­ity of olive oils,” and to stop the prac­tice of serv­ing patrons prod­ucts which are adul­ter­ated and cut with cheaper oils.

The plan, how­ever, found lit­tle sup­port among British cit­i­zens, prompt­ing scores of com­plaints, and in the end, was never actu­ally put in place. Casert spoke with Steven Blockmans, an ana­lyst with the Center for European Policy Studies, who noted: The plan to ban open olive oil dis­pensers came after many in Britain were already used to mock­ing per­ceived EU dik­tats. It may well be the prover­bial straw that broke the camel’s back,” Blockman said.

Whether as a result of the olive oil con­tro­versy itself, or the real pos­si­bil­ity of the coun­try exit­ing the EU, the EU gov­ern­ing body in Brussels appears to be lis­ten­ing to the Brits, promis­ing to focus on broader mat­ters, being big on big things and small on small things,” and cut­ting red tape for par­tic­i­pat­ing coun­tries. Though this may appease the British vot­ing pub­lic to some degree, the trans­la­tion for them as con­sumers means it’s likely they’ll con­tinue to be dip­ping their bread in what they think is EVOO, when in fact they’re sop­ping up a hybrid of cheaper, less health­ful oils.

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