Europe

Spain Announces 6-Month Program to Monitor Olive Oil Quality

Nov. 14, 2012
By Julie Butler

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Isabel García Tejerina

A spe­cial series of random checks will target Spain’s olive oil sector between now and May, the Spanish gov­ern­ment said yes­ter­day.

Designed to verify olive oil qual­ity and prod­uct trace­abil­ity, the “extra­or­di­nary” cam­paign will cover olive oil mills, bot­tling com­pa­nies, refiner­ies and dis­tri­b­u­tion cen­ters , said Isabel García Tejerina, General Secretary for Agriculture and Food in the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Environment.

Speaking in Madrid at a con­fer­ence on Spanish olive oil, García Tejerina said the qual­ity of its olive oil and its pro­duc­tion exper­tise had made Spain a world leader. It was now the number one olive oil exporter, account­ing for 51 per cent of global exports in terms of volume, fol­lowed dis­tantly by Italy with 22.4 per­cent and Greece with 6.3 per cent.

But work was needed to improve its export prices and qual­ity was the pillar on which the sector’s future would be built, she said.

Panel test “improve­ments”

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According to EFE, García Tejerina said the gov­ern­ment was study­ing meth­ods and instru­ments that could be used to “improve” the olive oil panel test. Among the meth­ods are a “chem­i­cal sensor” that could com­ple­ment or sub­sti­tute for the panel test “if appro­pri­ate,” and mag­netic res­o­nance and genetic test­ing.

Comparisons were already being made between results from public sector and pri­vate panel tests and mem­bers of the latter had been incor­po­rated into the Ministry’s panels, she said.

Limits to bot­tlers’ respon­si­bil­ity for qual­ity levels

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García Tejerina also spoke of set­ting “limits of respon­si­bil­ity” for pack­agers in regards to qual­ity. This would be be over the medium term and involve change to a stan­dard apply­ing to veg­etable oils, she said.

U.S. mar­ket­ing order under vig­i­lance

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Regarding the pro­posed United States olive oil mar­ket­ing order — which some in Spain’s olive oil sector fear would act as a trade bar­rier — García Tejerina said the Spanish gov­ern­ment was mon­i­tor­ing the progress and await­ing an oppor­tu­nity to set out its case and to try to influ­ence the U.S. to instead adhere to the rec­om­men­da­tions of the International Olive Council.

Time of reck­on­ing in Spain

Olive Oil Times was told García Tejerina was unavail­able for fur­ther infor­ma­tion today. Her announce­ment came in the wake of con­sid­er­able tur­moil in the Spanish olive oil sector.

After three years of record output — and a record of 690,800 tons in car­ry­over stocks — it is now on the verge of a dismal har­vest of just over 625,000 tons at the same time as the coun­try is in finan­cial crisis and the European Union seeks to tighten its farm sub­si­dies.

Last month, a Spanish con­sumer group said its tests found that nearly one in three olive oils sam­pled were mis­la­beled, renew­ing debate on issues includ­ing qual­ity con­trol, the reli­a­bil­ity of panel tests, and who should be held respon­si­ble if extra virgin olive oil dete­ri­o­rates post-bot­tling.

Meanwhile, the U.S. mar­ket­ing order is seen ‑rightly or wrongly — as a loom­ing threat in what is Spain’s most cru­cial export market.