A Smear Campaign Against Tunisian Olive Oil

Tunisian representatives and others are speaking out about a campaign to tarnish the reputation of the country's olive oil after Europe raised import limits to help with its economic recovery.

Aug. 15, 2016
By Claire Ngonga-Gicquel

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Tunisian olive oil is the sub­ject of some aggres­sive and mis­lead­ing media cam­paigns in Europe.

The cli­max was reached on March 15, dur­ing an Italian tele­vi­sion pro­gram called Ballarò” on the pub­lic chan­nel RAI3, which is mostly watched by senior cit­i­zens.

Good qual­ity extra vir­gin olive oil can be pro­duced in Italy, but also in Tunisia.- Zefferino Monini, Monini Spa

A jour­nal­ist reported from a small Tunisian oil mill based in Zaghouan, to show his fel­low cit­i­zens what was char­ac­ter­ized as shoddy san­i­ta­tion and hygiene mea­sures in a Tunisian oil mill. On the set of the show were also present Matteo Salvini, chair­man of the Italian extreme right Populist Party Lega Nord and Zefferino Monini, CEO of Monini Spa, which is a large olive oil busi­ness.

For his part, Monini expressed his dis­ap­proval of the jour­nal­ist’s work, call­ing it super­fi­cial and par­tial.” Monini went on by say­ing: Generalization is never good for the truth and true infor­ma­tion. Good qual­ity extra vir­gin olive oil can be pro­duced in Italy, but also in Tunisia and the same applies for poor qual­ity oil.”

On September 17, the European Commission adopted a leg­isla­tive pro­posal which autho­rized addi­tional tem­po­rary access of olive oil from Tunisia within the European mar­ket to sup­port Tunisia’s eco­nomic recov­ery. Through 2017, Tunisia is allowed to export to the EU a quota of 35,000 tons of olive oil per year with­out cus­toms duties, in addi­tion to the 56,700 tons already allowed, for a total of 91,700 tons annu­ally.

Exceptional cir­cum­stances call for excep­tional mea­sures. The answer today is a strong sig­nal of EU sol­i­dar­ity with Tunisia, which has our sup­port,” said Federica Mogherini, the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.

The trade rela­tions between the EU and Tunisia are gov­erned by the Euro-Mediterranean Association Agreement which was signed in 1995 and thus allows a yearly quota of 56,700 tons of olive oil from Tunisia to be exported to Europe with­out cus­toms sur­charges. This agree­ment laid the foun­da­tions of a free trade area.

Zefferino Monini

Of course, some European olive oil pro­duc­ers have a dif­fer­ent per­cep­tion of the Tunisian emer­gency quota. In Italy, the reac­tion of the farm­ing com­mu­nity was the strongest. Already weak­ened by the dev­as­tat­ing bac­te­r­ial infec­tion caused by Xylella fas­tidiosa, this com­mu­nity then saw oil out­side the EU pour­ing into its mar­ket.

A mobi­liza­tion cam­paign was launched by the Coldiretti farm­ers’ orga­ni­za­tion rein­forced by sev­eral per­son­al­i­ties, polit­i­cal par­ties and media join­ing their voices of dis­con­tent.

According to the Italian news agency ANSA, the EU annu­ally con­sumes 1,165,500 tons of olive oil among which 1,032,600 tons are pro­duced by European pro­duc­ers led by Spain, Italy and Greece. The rest, about 132,800 tons, comes from non-EU coun­tries, or about 7.8 per­cent of the total.

Tunisian reac­tions came through the pres­i­dent of the Forza Tounes asso­ci­a­tion Bayoudh Suhail, who strongly crit­i­cized the poor atti­tude of Tunisian author­i­ties deal­ing with the case. He sug­gested launch­ing a cam­paign called oil, like fish, has no nation­al­ity” to go against what he felt was an immoral smear cam­paign.

Fradi Mourad, the pres­i­dent of the Tunisian-Italian Chamber of Commerce also reacted on sev­eral radio sta­tions and urged the Minister of Agriculture to cre­ate a task force to com­mu­ni­cate on the excel­lent qual­ity of olive oil in Tunisia and about its inter­na­tional rep­u­ta­tion.

He also pointed out that the Italian media are often unable to describe the Tunisian real­ity. Indeed, accord­ing to this very Ballaro” pro­gram, it seemed per­fectly safe to con­sume olive oil from Tunisia. The extra vir­gin olive oil brand detailed on the show had won medals at inter­na­tional com­pe­ti­tions.

In 2015, Tunisia became the world’s largest exporter of olive oil. After an excep­tional 2014/2015 sea­son, Tunisia expe­ri­enced a sharp 60 per­cent drop in pro­duc­tion for the 2015/2016 har­vest sea­son.


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