A Spanish con­sumer orga­ni­za­tion which says that nine out of 34 extra vir­gin olive oils it tested were really vir­gin grade, and one was lam­pante, is stand­ing by its claims despite threats of legal action by major olive oil com­pa­nies.

Hojiblanca and ArteOliva were among those threat­en­ing to sue for dam­ages. They were joined by oth­ers includ­ing Acesur, super­mar­ket chain Condis and the Association of Edible Oil Bottling and Refining Companies (ANIERAC) in accus­ing the Organization of Consumers and Users (OCU) of not observ­ing proper prac­tice in its test­ing.

But the OCU says that it sub­jected the 34 EVOO and 6 vir­gin olive oil sam­ples to a tast­ing panel and bat­tery of phys­i­cal and chem­i­cal tests.

While the major­ity of the sam­ples were of the qual­ity stated on their label, the OCU said its tests found that “nine brands mis­led con­sumers by sell­ing an oil labeled as extra when it turned out to sim­ply be vir­gin.” On aver­age, con­sumers were pay­ing €1 more for extra vir­gin than vir­gin olive oil, it said.

The nine sam­ples came from plas­tic bot­tles from the Aliada, Condis, Consum, Coosur, Eroski, Hojiblanca and Ybarra brands, a glass bot­tle from Oli Sone (LIDL), and a tetra pack from Arteoliva.

Of the nine, all were rated “very bad” under OCU’s panel test results cat­e­gory but seven rated “very good” under what OCU called fruit qual­ity analy­sis. The Coosur sam­ple rated “good” under this cat­e­gory and the Aliada one “accept­able”.

Furthermore, an EVOO from Maeva and a vir­gin olive oil from Olilán were found to be lam­pante “and there­fore unsuit­able for sale with­out being (chem­i­cally) refined” OCU said in a press release.

Relevant con­sumer and agri­cul­ture author­i­ties in Spain have been informed of the results to inves­ti­gate if any action should be taken.

Despite the prob­lems iden­ti­fied, there are good qual­ity prod­ucts avail­able at rea­son­able prices, OCU said. “With olive oil, as with many other prod­ucts, a high price is not always indica­tive of qual­ity.”

Hojiblanca and ArteOliva threaten legal action

In a press release, Hojiblanca said it would sue OCU for not com­ply­ing with test­ing reg­u­la­tions such as on the num­ber of sam­ples to be taken and analy­sis pro­to­col.

It also said stressed that it had “reli­able inhouse and exter­nal test­ing results” — both by chem­i­cal ana­lyis and tast­ing pan­els — prov­ing that the cat­e­gory of its olive oil found by OCU to be vir­gin, was really EVOO.

An ille­gal analy­sis of a few bot­tles is not rep­re­sen­ta­tive of mil­lions of liters- Hojiblanca Spokesperson

“In no way do Hojiblanca, its mem­ber coop­er­a­tives and their thou­sands of olive farm­ers cheat or defraud any­one” it said.

Samples from an Hojiblanca brand EVOO in a glass bot­tle and two sam­ples from Cordoliva pro­duc­sts, also from the Hojiblanca sta­ble, were cleared by OCU, an Hojiblanca spokesman told Olive Oil Times.

“This is one of the rea­son we dis­agree. An ille­gal analy­sis of a few bot­tles is not rep­re­sen­ta­tive of mil­lions of liters” he said.

And Felipe Silvela, ArteOliva spokesman, tweeted that the com­pany would also sue the OCU for dam­ages. “ArteOliva won“t allow the OCU to unfairly ruin the pres­tige and integrity of this com­pany” he said.

Consumer rights

The OCU did not respond to requests from Olive Oil Times for more infor­ma­tion about its test­ing.

Hojiblanca made ref­er­ence to the pos­si­bil­ity of oils dete­ri­o­rat­ing under super­mar­ket light.

But OCU Director Jose María Múgica said in a blog today that con­sumers have the right to know that the prod­uct they buy is what the label says it is — regard­less of the length or con­di­tions of its time on a super­mar­ket shelf.

OCU Director Jose María Múgica

“We ana­lyze prod­ucts in the state in which they reach the con­sumer.”

“If they think they are buy­ing extra vir­gin olive oil, then the bot­tle should con­tain extra virgin,not vir­gin or lam­pante” he said.

“And it should be extra vir­gin that they buy when they buy it, be it fresh from the mill or after months on the shelf.”

Reaction in Spain’s olive oil sec­tor

While the recent rain is a rea­son for cheer in Spain’s belea­guered olive oil sec­tor, there was an air of despon­dency in some social media cir­cles yes­ter­day amid the wide­spread pub­lic­ity of this case.

While some pro­duc­ers said it was a wel­come wake-up call, oth­ers said it was “sad and lam­en­ta­ble” and would harm both Spanish exports and domes­tic con­sump­tion.

Panel test

In its state­ment, Hojiblanca said that for some time the olive oil sec­tor had been rais­ing prob­lems with the “uncer­tainty of the tast­ing panel method”.

The stan­dard­iza­tion of panel test­ing had been promised by the rel­e­vant author­i­ties in the Andalusian regional and Spanish cen­tral gov­ern­ments and also by European Commissioner for Agriculture Dacian Cioloş as part of his Olive Oil Action Plan, it said.

Among other objec­tives, the lat­ter plan “aimed to stan­dard­ize these tast­ing pan­els pre­cisely to avoid ‘vary­ing results’ for the same prod­uct and thus also reports like this that in no way help the Spanish food sec­tor, espe­cially in these times of cri­sis” Hojiblanca said.

An EC Spokesman on Agriculture told Olive Oil Times today that in July this year the Member States “were invited to describe prob­lems they have encoun­tered with the func­tion­ing of the panel test and to pro­pose solu­tions.”

“There have been no detailed responses so far and the com­mis­sion has now sent out reminders” he said.



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