Ongoing Battle Over Refillable Bottles in Spain

Efforts continue to ensure that restaurants, hotels and caterers are in compliance with the Spanish Royal Decree that prohibits refilling olive oil bottles. This summer a council in Jaen and a farmers association have taken new measures.

Sep. 20, 2016
By Alexis Kerner

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Olive oil is served at every meal in Spain. In the morn­ing, expect toast with tomato and olive oil to start the day. For lunch and din­ner side sal­ads do not come with a plas­tic cup of ranch dress­ing to top that chunk of ice­berg let­tuce. This is olive oil coun­try and the prod­uct is used all day, every day until it runs down your hand as you take a bite of your toast. Some say if the stream does not reach your elbow you didn’t use enough.

Go to any restau­rant or bar and before you find a pep­per­shaker on the table you will see a bot­tle of olive oil. This bot­tle is known as an aceit­era.” Since any­one can remem­ber, the typ­i­cal corked, stout glass bot­tle with a long neck for pour­ing has been a Span­ish table cen­ter­piece. Some were filled just with just olive oil and oth­ers had a few gar­lic gloves for Mediter­ranean fla­vor.
See more: Arti­cles on Refill­able Con­tain­ers
How­ever, there were prob­lems with this famil­iar sys­tem. Many aceit­eras” were being refilled with­out being washed or were filled with less than mediocre oil. How could a con­sumer be sure of its qual­ity, hygiene and authen­tic­ity? And how could Spain, the world´s largest olive oil pro­ducer, pro­tect its image as well as its pro­duc­ers and des­ig­na­tions of ori­gins?

On Jan­u­ary 1st, 2014 a royal decree was put into affect that required all hotels, restau­rants and cater­ing ser­vices to use only olive oil that was cor­rectly labeled and in either non-refill­able bot­tles or small, one-use pack­ets.

Many pro­duc­ers cel­e­brated the mea­sures as a way to pro­tect the iden­tity and qual­ity of their prod­ucts. How­ever, they were met with strong resis­tance from restau­rant, hotel and cater­ing own­ers. Instead of see­ing the ben­e­fits to image and qual­ity, many saw the change as an extra cost they were not will­ing to pay in a chal­leng­ing econ­omy. They had always bought the prod­uct in jugs and would refill cruets as needed.

It has been almost two years and many bar and restau­rant own­ers still have not adopted the change and seem to have no inten­tions in shift­ing their prac­tices. Pro­duc­ers and con­sumers are feel­ing like they are not being respected and as if they are at a dead end.


Despite ini­tial failed efforts in 2013 from olive oil pro­duc­ing coun­tries to have the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion pro­hibit the use of refill­able olive oil bot­tles in restau­rants, the Eco­nomic and Social Coun­cil (CES) in Jaén has not given up.

Just this past July, the province´s the CES has requested once more that the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment (EP) and the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion (EC) take mea­sures to avoid refill­ing in hotels, cater­ers and restau­rants. A writ­ten doc­u­ment explain­ing the impor­tance of ban­ning the prac­tice was pre­sented to the CE pres­i­dent, the EP pres­i­dent, the Agri­cul­tural and Rural Devel­op­ment com­mis­sioner and the pres­i­dent of the Com­mis­sion for Agri­cul­tural and Rural Devel­op­ment of the EP.

The doc­u­ment detailed the pos­i­tive impacts it would have, not only on prof­its and employ­ment, but also on the envi­ron­ment, bio­di­ver­sity and cli­mate change. The CES also explained how it would ben­e­fit sales of high qual­ity oil, con­sumer aware­ness and olive oil cul­ture. They also argued that non-refill­able, labeled bot­tles pro­tect con­sumer rights to a safe, qual­ity prod­uct.

In mid-August fur­ther action was taken. ASAJA-Jaen (a young farm­ers asso­ci­a­tion) embarked on a new cam­paign that encour­ages con­sumers to report bars, hotels and restau­rants that are non-com­pli­ant with the royal decree.

They urged con­sumers to take a good look at what they are being served. If the oil is served in a refill­able bot­tle or in a labeled bot­tle that has appar­ently been tam­pered with to refill it ille­gally, ASAJA asks that the cus­tomer exer­cise their right to ask for and fill out the con­sumer com­plaints form (Hojas de Recla­ma­ciones). These forms are avail­able in all busi­nesses and are to be made read­ily avail­able for clients in Span­ish and Eng­lish.

If food ser­vice estab­lish­ments do not yield to the writ­ten law, the hope among pro­duc­ers is that pres­sure from the con­sumer will be more effec­tive.

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