`Tyrosol or Tyrosols: Greek Agency's Stance on Health Claim Comes Down to Semantics - Olive Oil Times

Tyrosol or Tyrosols: Greek Agency's Stance on Health Claim Comes Down to Semantics

By Athan Gadanidis
Jun. 28, 2015 15:58 UTC

I have been report­ing over the last year and a half on the debate rag­ing in Greece on how to imple­ment the EU 432/2012 label­ing reg­u­la­tion. Despite the many attempts by sci­en­tists, olive grow­ers, olive mills and even mem­bers of the Greek Parliament to con­vince the Hellenic Food Safety Agency (EFET) to allow the mea­sure­ment of tyrosol deriv­a­tives the agency has so far refused.

Now, it has now been revealed that EFET’s refusal to include the mea­sure­ment of tyrosol deriv­a­tives in order to qual­ify for the cor­re­spond­ing health claim on the label is not based on any sci­en­tific evi­dence. Their deci­sion is based on a very nar­row and strictly gram­mat­i­cal inter­pre­ta­tion of the word tyrosol in the Greek trans­la­tion of the EU 432/2012 reg­u­la­tion:

The (health) claim may be used only for olive oil which con­tains at least 5 mg of hydrox­y­ty­rosol and its deriv­a­tives (e.g. oleu­ropein com­plex and tyrosol) per 20gm of olive oil. In order to bear the claim infor­ma­tion shall be given to the con­sumer that the ben­e­fi­cial effect is obtained with a daily intake of 20 g of olive oil.”

Last month this topic was brought to the Greek Parliament for the third time by Giorgos Kasapidis who asked the new Minister of Food and Agricultural Development, Vangelis Apostolou, to spec­ify what sci­en­tific evi­dence EFET relied on for their deci­sion to exclude the mea­sure­ment of tyrosol deriv­a­tives. Kasapidis also asked by which method were phe­no­lic com­pounds to be mea­sured and by which lab.

The min­is­ter replied on May 15, and made a com­mit­ment to answer the ques­tion and name an offi­cial method and lab to mea­sure the phe­no­lic com­pounds before the next har­vest sea­son begins.

Meanwhile, EFET is insist­ing the word­ing of the reg­u­la­tion implies that tyrosol deriv­a­tives should not be mea­sured. Oleocanthal being a deriv­a­tive of tyrosol is there­fore excluded.

The extent of this absurd argu­ment over seman­tics was brought to light recently dur­ing a round­table dis­cus­sion at the Lipid Forum annual con­fer­ence on June 11 – 12 in Athens.

Four sci­en­tists (Prokopios Magiatis, Dimitris Boskou, Maria Tsimidou and Leandros Skaltsounis) came together to try to respond to this issue under pres­sure from the olive oil indus­try and the mem­bers of the press.

All four of the sci­en­tists agreed that tyrosol deriv­a­tives should be mea­sured based on the under­ly­ing sci­en­tific research con­ducted by María-Isabel Covas and oth­ers in order cre­ate the health claim in the first place.

Konstantinos Barberis

The man with the unen­vi­able job of defend­ing the posi­tion of EFET is Konstantinos Barberis, chem­istry direc­tor and food cri­sis coor­di­na­tor at EFET. Addressing the round­table with pal­pa­ble dis­com­fort, Barberis con­tin­ued to focus on the word­ing of the reg­u­la­tion and not the sci­ence behind it. The word tyrosol in the word­ing of the reg­u­la­tion means that its deriv­a­tives should not be mea­sured. If it was spelled tyrosols then its deriv­a­tives includ­ing oleo­can­thal would be mea­sured.”

Barberis went on to add: I am not bas­ing my deci­sion on the sci­en­tific evi­dence.” The audi­ence and the four sci­en­tists grew frus­trated at his insis­tence on bas­ing his deci­sion on seman­tics and not sci­en­tific evi­dence. Barberis, who has a PhD in Chemistry, should know bet­ter than to use seman­tic argu­ments to exclude the sci­en­tific basis that would allow the most pro­lific phe­no­lic com­pounds found in Greek olive oil to be mea­sured in order to com­ply with EU 432/2012.

Also in the audi­ence was Aris Kefalogianis founder of Gaea Products S.A. and, hav­ing a law degree from the London School of Economics, offered his legal exper­tise on the issue at hand: When we seek to inter­pret a law or a reg­u­la­tion we do not look only at the word­ing of the law but also at the intent of the peo­ple who wrote it.”

Barberis seemed gen­uinely uncom­fort­able at hav­ing to dis­re­gard sci­en­tific evi­dence or even a strictly legal basis in favor of a nar­row seman­tic inter­pre­ta­tion. He gave a clear impres­sion that he was ordered to do so.

Boskou, Tsimidou and Skaltsounis agreed that tyrosol deriv­a­tives should be mea­sured to com­ply with the health claim, but they dis­agreed on how to mea­sure them. They affirmed the accu­racy of the NMR (Nuclear Magnetic Resonance) but insisted it was too expen­sive. Tsimidou has devel­oped her own ana­lyt­i­cal method based on using hydrol­y­sis to free the deriv­a­tive phe­no­lic com­pounds back to their orig­i­nal forms, hydrox­y­ty­rosol and tyrosol, and then mea­sure them.

There are many prod­ucts (juice, creams, lotions, pills) for­ti­fied with hydrox­y­ty­rosol and tyrosol extracted from olive mill waste and this may cause con­sumer con­fu­sion.

Magiatis expressed some reser­va­tion of the hydrol­y­sis ana­lyt­i­cal method: EVOO con­tains a unique blend of hydrox­y­ty­rosol and tyrosol deriv­a­tives such as Oleacein and Oleocanthal with excep­tional health-pro­mot­ing char­ac­ter­is­tics. If you wish to pro­mote the health ben­e­fits of phe­no­lic com­pounds found in EVOO why mea­sure them as if they orig­i­nated in olive mill waste­water?”


Olive mill waste­water does not con­tain any sig­nif­i­cant amount of hydrox­y­ty­rosol or tyrosol deriv­a­tives that are present in EVOO,” Magiatis argued. There is a dan­ger that hydrox­y­ty­rosol and tyrosol or their sim­ple syn­thetic esters could be added to lower qual­ity olive oil and if the hydrol­y­sis method of analy­sis was used they could even qual­ify for the health claim.”

After the meet­ing I had a chance to talk to Barberis in pri­vate and ask him some direct ques­tions: What if another coun­try, for exam­ple Tunisia, decided to mea­sure tyrosol deriv­a­tives and places the health claim on their labels, what will EFET do? Will they lodge a com­plaint to the EU and try to stop them?

No we would not do that,” he replied.

Then why are you stop­ping the Greek olive oil pro­duc­ers who wish to mea­sure tyrosol deriv­a­tives?” I asked.

EFET has not lodged any com­plaints and will not take action against Greek pro­duc­ers that choose to mea­sure tyrosol deriv­a­tives and place the health claim on their labels,” he insisted.

Based on my direct expe­ri­ence I knew this not to be the case. I have spo­ken to a few pro­duc­ers who wanted to place the health claim on their labels and EFET refused to allow them to do it. They can put the health claim on their label if they wish and it is up to the other coun­tries to decide if they would accept it,” Barberis insisted.

In other words olive grow­ers are on their own. EFET will not stand by them and will not stop them either. This is a prime exam­ple of the type of Kafkaesque like bureau­cratic night­mare that is stran­gling the Greek olive indus­try.

The pres­i­dent of EFET, Ioannis Tsialtas did not show up to the round­table dis­cus­sion and nei­ther did any mem­bers of the Ministry of Food and Agricultural Development.

The fact of the mat­ter is tyrosol deriv­a­tives are found in Greek EVOO in greater amounts than any other group of phe­no­lic com­pounds. Magiatis was emphatic about this point hav­ing ana­lyzed over 1,500 sam­ples of Greek EVOO over the last two years:

If you include tyrosol deriv­a­tives such as oleo­can­thal, over 60 per­cent of Greek EVOOs we have tested so far would qual­ify for the health claim,” Magiatis explained. If you exclude tyrosol deriv­a­tives less than 15 per­cent of Greek EVOOs would qual­ify for the health claim on their label.” Magiatis added that, gen­er­ally speak­ing, early har­vest EVOO con­tains more hydrox­y­ty­rosol and tyrosol deriv­a­tives than late har­vest. So with small adjust­ments in the time of har­vest and milling process we can eas­ily increase the num­ber of EVOOs that qual­ify to meet demand.”

The ques­tion that still remains to be answered by EFET is why they insist on inter­pret­ing the word­ing of the reg­u­la­tion based on gram­mar and not the under­ly­ing sci­ence the reg­u­la­tion is based on. The absur­dity of this seman­tic argu­ment, if applied to qual­ity con­trol of EVOO, would mean EFET would not test sci­en­tif­i­cally any olive oils that are fraud­u­lently sold as EVOOs because the label clearly states they are indeed EVOOs. So we should only assess the EVOO qual­ity based on the word­ing on the label and not con­duct any chem­i­cal analy­sis.

Unfortunately this may actu­ally be the case with EFET. One mem­ber of the audi­ence at the lipid forum severely crit­i­cized EFET for not fol­low­ing up on con­sumer and indus­try com­plaints regard­ing the sale of fraud­u­lent and mis­la­beled EVOOs in Greece. In one case among many it took nine months and numer­ous com­plaints before the agnecy ordered the fraud­u­lent olive oil off the shelves. The fact that Greeks con­sume more than 20 kg of olive oil per year per capita makes this a seri­ous health issue.

The next har­vest year is look­ing very good so far for Spain, but not so good for Greece. If Spain achieves the pro­duc­tion they expect, it could result in even lower prices for Greek olive oil when sold in bulk. This is bad news for the Greek olive grow­ers fac­ing a dimin­ished pro­duc­tion next sea­son mainly due to weather con­di­tions: too cold, then too hot, and then not enough rain when it was needed the most.

EFET could have accepted the sci­en­tific opin­ions and allowed the health claim on the label over two years ago. It would have helped the strug­gling Greek olive oil indus­try to dif­fer­en­ti­ate their prod­uct and gain mar­ket share, instead of spend­ing all this time argu­ing over seman­tics.


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