` In Latest Bid for Relevance, Council Seeks to Standardize Competitions

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In Latest Bid for Relevance, Council Seeks to Standardize Competitions

May. 18, 2015
By Denise Johnson

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Oper­at­ing under a tem­po­rary exten­sion of an expired char­ter and fac­ing wan­ing inter­est in its own annual olive oil com­pe­ti­tion, the Inter­na­tional Olive Coun­cil (IOC), in an open let­ter to orga­niz­ers of rival com­pe­ti­tions, has offered its endorse­ment, or patron­age,” to the ones that meet its con­di­tions.

an inef­fec­tive agen­cy’s lat­est effort to reduce an indus­try to the low­est com­mon denom­i­na­tor

Among the pre­req­ui­sites for the use of the words com­pe­ti­tion held under the patron­age of the Inter­na­tional Olive Coun­cil,” accord­ing to a draft of the pro­posed rules are: entrants must prove sub­mit­ted sam­ples are from a uni­form batch of at least 3,000 liters, and each pro­ducer may sub­mit just one oil to the com­pe­ti­tion.

The IOC’s own com­pe­ti­tion, the Mario Soli­nas Qual­ity Award, has long been viewed as a lop­sided and under-pro­moted event, lit­tle noticed even within the olive oil indus­try. It is one of the small­est of the inter­na­tional com­pe­ti­tions: Last year’s con­tes­tants included just two oils from Italy and six from Greece, and just 3 entries from the entire South­ern Hemi­sphere. Win­ners were merely listed on a sta­tic PDF and gar­nered scant atten­tion beyond the IOC’s own web­site.

Among the other pro­posed con­di­tions for the IOC’s bless­ing of rival events that com­pete with its own, entry fees can­not exceed €100 ($113.90) and must only cover the costs of hold­ing the com­pe­ti­tion,” a rule that would exclude nearly every inter­na­tional olive oil com­pe­ti­tion at present.

The entry fee price-fix­ing is a bewil­der­ing bid to reduce olive oil qual­ity com­pe­ti­tions to the low­est com­mon denom­i­na­tor, under­mine a free mar­ket and dis­re­gard the fact that a com­pe­ti­tion that no one knows about is worth lit­tle to the par­tic­i­pat­ing pro­duc­ers.

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Like other food or bev­er­age com­pe­ti­tions, olive oil com­pe­ti­tions draw broad pub­lic atten­tion to the value of high-qual­ity olive oil, gen­er­ate mean­ing­ful pub­lic­ity for win­ning brands, and reward top pro­duc­ers of all sizes. With lit­tle or no money in its own dwin­dling bud­get for the pro­mo­tion of olive oil, the IOC’s lat­est ini­tia­tive seems to cater to the larger pro­duc­ers and bot­tlers the agency is beholden to, by seek­ing to con­trol which pro­duc­ers get rec­og­nized.

It’s dead on arrival,” said Cur­tis Cord, the orga­nizer of the New York Inter­na­tional Olive Oil Com­pe­ti­tion — the world’s largest — and pub­lisher of Olive Oil Times, who said he has no inter­est in the IOC pro­posal nor its endorse­ment. I wish the Coun­cil good luck with its pur­suit. Mean­while, we will con­tinue on our course to inde­pen­dently iden­tify, cel­e­brate and pub­li­cize the best olive oils in the world, free of the IOC and its unpro­duc­tive poli­cies.”

Resus­ci­tated last sum­mer only by a last-minute exten­sion of the agree­ment gov­ern­ing its exis­tence, the Madrid-based IOC has had a rough few years.

In an effort to pro­mote pos­i­tive writ­ing by jour­nal­ists about the olive indus­try,” the IOC in 2012 held a con­test say­ing it would award €5,000 for the best arti­cle pro­mot­ing the desire to dis­cover and enjoy olive oil and table olives,” only to can­cel the con­test due to a lack of entries.

It oper­ated in a state of limbo for much of 2013, unable to do any­thing more than pay its staff, and even fail­ing to rep­re­sent the sec­tor at an impor­tant meet­ing of the Codex Com­mit­tee on Fats and Oils.

Last year on the brink of expir­ing along with its char­ter, the Coun­cil and its direc­tor, Jean-Louis Bar­jol, were saved by a 12-month exten­sion while mem­bers, cur­rently led by Turkey, debate its pur­pose and nego­ti­ate an agree­ment to con­tinue.

None of the world’s five largest economies are mem­bers of the IOC. Bar­jol, a for­mer sugar indus­try pro­fes­sional, made United States mem­ber­ship a key objec­tive of his tenure, but the U.S. has main­tained it has no inten­tion to join the inter­gov­ern­men­tal orga­ni­za­tion.

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