`Calls to Improve 'Prestige' of Spanish Olive Oil

Europe

Calls to Improve 'Prestige' of Spanish Olive Oil

May. 10, 2012
Julie Butler

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Fer­nando Burgaz (photo: Span­ish Min­istry of Agri­cul­ture, Food and the Envi­ron­ment)

As debate deep­ens in Spain and wider Europe over reform to the trou­bled olive oil sec­tor, the Span­ish cen­tral gov­ern­ment and a local gov­ern­ment group have both made qual­ity the key­stone of their calls for change.

Fer­nando Burgaz, man­ag­ing direc­tor of the food indus­try unit of the Span­ish Min­istry of Agri­cul­ture, Food and the Envi­ron­ment (MAGRAMA), said the chal­lenge was to pre­serve olive oil’s image by offer­ing con­sumers a guar­an­tee of the qual­ity of the prod­uct they buy.”

His com­ments were in a state­ment pub­lished after his April 26 meet­ing with var­i­ous agri-food coop­er­a­tives.

Per­fect­ing” the Panel Test

Organolep­tic analy­sis was indis­pens­able” for the clas­si­fi­ca­tion and rat­ing of vir­gin and extra vir­gin olive oils and it helped uphold qual­ity and con­sumer con­fi­dence, but some per­fec­tion of the sys­tem was needed, Burgaz said. We are work­ing on improve­ments to the method­ol­ogy of the panel test and explor­ing pos­si­ble physico-chem­i­cal means to com­ple­ment it.”

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He did not say what type of tests but rel­e­vant phys­i­cal and chem­i­cal char­ac­ter­is­tics of olive oil could include the level of acid­ity, per­ox­ides, colour, humid­ity, and impu­ri­ties.

Burgaz said MAGRAMA was also con­sid­er­ing var­i­ous ways it could help improve the oper­a­tion of pri­vate test pan­els and opti­mize their ser­vice to the sec­tor.”

Label­ing

At the level of the Euro­pean Union and the Inter­na­tional Olive Coun­cil (IOC), Spain is push­ing for olive oil labels to include details such as a best-before date and preser­va­tion advice, Burgaz said. To help guar­an­tee qual­ity for the end con­sumer.”

New veg­etable oil qual­ity stan­dard

Nation­ally, MAGRAMA is devel­op­ing a new qual­ity stan­dard on veg­etable oils with some pro­vi­sions spe­cific to olive oil. Burgaz said the min­istry was resum­ing con­sul­ta­tion with the sec­tor so that the stan­dard, to be enforced by Royal Decree, could be put in place soon.

He gave no details but media reports last year said a fea­ture of the draft ver­sion — intro­duced before the change of gov­ern­ment in Spain — was the require­ment of more strin­gent self-mon­i­tor­ing, qual­ity con­trol and trace­abil­ity at olive oil mills, refiner­ies, bot­tlers, and so on.

Olive Tree Munic­i­pal­i­ties’ Man­i­festo

In a dec­la­ra­tion approved unan­i­mously at its national assem­bly on April 27, the Span­ish Asso­ci­a­tion of Munic­i­pal­i­ties of the Olive Tree (AEMO for its ini­tials in Span­ish) said that Spain’s olive oil sec­tor was endur­ing a fourth year of cri­sis with record pro­duc­tion but below-cost farm gate prices.

Stop­ping the banal­iza­tion” of olive oil and achiev­ing fair prices would be achieved by increas­ing con­sump­tion and rais­ing the pres­tige of the flag­ship prod­uct — extra vir­gin olive oil, it said.

To increase the aware­ness and appre­ci­a­tion of vir­gin and extra vir­gin olive oils’ intrin­sic ben­e­fits — includ­ing for health and gas­tron­omy — AEMO called for a series of mea­sures, the first of which related to panel tests

Sen­so­r­ial eval­u­a­tion is absolutely essen­tial for the qual­ity con­trol of vir­gin and extra vir­gin olive oils and increas­ing appre­ci­a­tion of the dif­fer­en­ti­at­ing char­ac­ter­is­tics of the juice of the olive fruit com­pared to other veg­etable oils. It is there­fore nec­es­sary to work on the coor­di­na­tion of exist­ing test pan­els while also pro­mot­ing the cre­ation of new pan­els to serve the needs of indus­try and gov­ern­ment,” it said.

Qual­ity Con­trol

We also think it’s essen­tial to strengthen the enforce­ment of olive oil mar­ket­ing stan­dards, pay­ing par­tic­u­lar atten­tion to the vir­gin and extra vir­gin cat­e­gories. The lack of qual­ity con­trol in the dif­fer­ent cat­e­gories is under­min­ing the the brand image of Span­ish vir­gin olive oils, which is unac­cept­able in the coun­try that is the world’s biggest pro­ducer.”

Among other mea­sures sought by AEMO:

- require olive oil bot­tles used in the hos­pi­tal­ity sec­tor to be non-refill­able,

- pro­mote fair trade in olive oil with con­sumer edu­ca­tion about pro­duc­ers oper­at­ing at a loss, and set­ting a min­i­mum price that assures their future via­bil­ity,

- stop the exces­sive” use of olive oil as a super­mar­ket loss leader.

We also pro­pose that the Min­istry anaylze, along with the sec­tor and expert groups, a change to the cur­rent prod­uct grade def­i­n­i­tions (extra vir­gin olive oil, vir­gin olive oil, and lam­pante vir­gin olive oil in the vir­gin oil cat­e­gory, and olive oil and olive pomace oil in the refined oil cat­e­gory), because we believe con­sumers con­fuse the gen­eral with the refined cat­e­gory. Agreed changes should later be pro­posed to the IOC for inter­na­tional appli­ca­tion,” AEMO said.

Apart from the com­ing changes dis­cussed by Burgaz, sec­tor reforms have also been promised by Euro­pean Com­mis­sioner for Agri­cul­ture Dacian Cioloş and the regional gov­ern­ment of Andalu­sia. The IOC is sep­a­rately review­ing test­ing meth­ods.



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