` EU Olive Farmers' Wishlist for Change

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EU Olive Farmers' Wishlist for Change

Dec. 27, 2012
By Julie Butler

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Olive oil pro­duc­ers are firm­ing up their posi­tions as nego­ti­a­tions advance on Europe’s future Com­mon Agri­cul­tural Pol­icy (CAP) and the action plan for the EU olive oil sec­tor.

Juan Cor­balán, Brus­sels del­e­gate of Span­ish Agri-food Coop­er­a­tives — which holds the pres­i­dency of the olive oil sec­tion of Euro­pean farmer fed­er­a­tion Copa-Cogeca — spoke to Olive Oil Times about what mat­ters most to farm­ers.

He said pri­or­i­ties include increas­ing pro­ducer orga­ni­za­tions’ nego­ti­at­ing clout in the food indus­try, and an over­haul in the area of qual­ity con­trol.

With the lat­ter they seek some con­tentious mea­sures, includ­ing putting the onus on retail­ers to ensure the oil they stock is of the qual­ity stated on the label.

Rebal­anc­ing the food chain

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The low incomes of many olive grow­ers is acknowl­edged in the draft action plan, released by the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion in June for com­ment.

Cor­balán said increas­ing the con­cen­tra­tion of pro­duc­ers is essen­tial if they are to strengthen their power in the food value chain.

For exam­ple, in Spain, the world’s lead­ing olive oil pro­ducer, there are more than 1,000 pro­ducer enter­prises (900 are coop­er­a­tives) yet just four com­pa­nies con­trol about 40 per­cent of the (retail) mar­ket.”

These orga­ni­za­tions need to be actively mar­ket­ing their mem­bers’ pro­duce but they require a suf­fi­cient mass in order to do so. Incen­tives are needed to spur merg­ers and develop tools that help farm­ers add value.

Work on this is tak­ing place as part of the CAP nego­ti­a­tions, he said.

Limit of respon­si­bil­ity for prod­uct qual­ity

There was uproar in Spain in Octo­ber when a con­sumer body said its tests of shop-bought extra vir­gin olive oil found one in three was mis­la­beled. In their defense, some major olive oil com­pa­nies said their oil was extra vir­gin when it left their hands, and they queried the valid­ity of the con­sumer group’s tests, par­tic­u­larly the organolep­tic results.

Cor­balán said Euro­pean law should be changed so when an olive oil is sub­ject to inspec­tion, who­ever has the olive oil at the time — such as a store — should be liable.

We want who­ever is hold­ing the prod­uct to be respon­si­ble for its qual­ity, as occurs under fruit and veg­eta­bles law.”

Not who sold it two years ago, but who has it now,” he said.

Panel test: first clas­si­fi­ca­tion to be defin­i­tive

Farm­ers also want panel test rules har­mo­nized so there is con­sis­tency in the way the test is applied across Europe.

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And once an olive oil has been cat­e­go­rized by a panel as extra vir­gin, this result should remain valid for the life of the oil. Another panel test done two years later with a dif­fer­ent out­come shouldn’t inval­i­date it, Cor­balán said.

Asked about the need to also pro­tect con­sumers, he said they, too, would ben­e­fit from such mea­sures.

New tools

Qual­ity con­trol needs to be improved and made uni­form both within and beyond the EU, he said.

There are good trade oppor­tu­ni­ties in coun­tries such as China, India and the US, but we need the same rules, cat­e­gories and ana­lyt­i­cal tools to apply.”

The Span­ish gov­ern­ment has said it is study­ing new tools for the panel test, includ­ing a chem­i­cal sen­sor” that could com­ple­ment or sub­sti­tute it. Some indus­try sources have told Olive Oil Times an elec­tronic nose and a form of spec­trom­e­try are being assessed.

Cor­balán said a tool had been pro­posed and was being exam­ined, but he couldn’t elab­o­rate.

Label­ing and cat­e­gories

Regard­ing best-before dates, the draft action plan said cur­rent leg­is­la­tion pro­vides for an expiry date on labels, but does not set a stor­age period. There should be a study of changes in olive oil over time and agree­ment on an eval­u­a­tion method, it said.

Cor­balán said the stan­dard­iza­tion of best-before dates is impor­tant, because some retail­ers ask for two years, oth­ers three, and some one year.”

He said there is also a need to find a new name for the retail grade called olive oil” — a mix of vir­gin and chem­i­cally refined olive oil — because it is very con­fus­ing for con­sumers. There is so far no strong con­tender for the new name, how­ever.

Trig­ger prices for pri­vate stor­age aid

It’s under­stood there is cur­rently con­sen­sus at Euro­pean Par­lia­ment level to increase the trig­ger prices for extra vir­gin and vir­gin olive oil (but not for lam­pante), to enshrine the prices in the main olive oil leg­is­la­tion, and to pro­vide that acti­va­tion be swift and auto­matic.

Cor­balán said the lat­ter mea­sures are impor­tant because farm­ers need the secu­rity of know­ing that once ex-mill prices are below the trig­gers, the aid will be auto­matic — as it is in other sec­tors, such as but­ter” — instead of at the Commission’s dis­cre­tion.

The Euro­pean Par­lia­ment is doing a good job and we trust that in the end the Euro­pean Coun­cil and and Com­mis­sion will accept its posi­tion.”

Nev­er­the­less, pro­duc­ers hope the Par­lia­ment will yet be con­vinced to also increase the trig­ger price for lam­pante, he said.

Dossiers on rel­e­vant aspects of the future CAP and the action plan are still being reviewed by com­mit­tees of the Com­mis­sion and Par­lia­ment.



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