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Greeks Lament EU Decision That Allows Enriching Seed Oils With Phenols

Greek Parliament members criticized an EU decision that allows the use synthetic hydroxytyrosol as a seed oil additive.

Apr. 12, 2018
By Costas Vasilopoulos

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A recent ses­sion of the Greek Parliament brought up the fact that seed oils can be legally infused with phe­nols for the first time in the European Union.

Spyros Danellis, a member of the Greek Parliament, brought up the matter of the deci­sion of the European Commission (2017/2373). With this deci­sion, effec­tive January 1, 2018, the Commission granted per­mis­sion to a Spanish biotech­nol­ogy com­pany to enrich seed oils with phe­nols.

The deci­sion, issued after a claim of a Spanish com­pany, legit­imizes adul­ter­ation and it will prove destruc­tive for Greek olive oil.- Spyros Danellis, Greek Parliament Member

Danellis said in his state­ment: “Since January 2018, the 2017/2373 deci­sion has enabled polyphe­nols to be added to seed oils, and par­tic­u­larly hydrox­y­ty­rosol, which is known as one of the basic healthy sub­stances of olive oil. The blend­ing is allowed up to 215 mg per kilo, very close to the phe­nols that olive oils should con­tain.”

Spyros Danellis

“The deci­sion, issued after a claim of a Spanish com­pany, legit­imizes adul­ter­ation and it will prove destruc­tive for Greek olive oil.”

The spe­cific imple­ment­ing deci­sion stip­u­lates that hydrox­y­ty­rosol can be added to fish and veg­etable oils, and also to spread­able fats. It also imposes restric­tions that the new prod­ucts should not be used for cook­ing, baking or frying, and should not be con­sumed by chil­dren under the age of three or preg­nant and breast­feed­ing women. These restric­tions must be writ­ten on the label of the prod­uct to inform con­sumers.

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Before issu­ing the deci­sion, the Commission asked the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) to pro­vide their sci­en­tific opin­ion on the safety of using syn­thetic hydrox­y­ty­rosol as a food addi­tive. A panel of experts of EFSA exam­ined the facts and con­cluded that the pro­posed use of the sub­stance is safe, within the quan­ti­ties and the restric­tions men­tioned above.

Danellis con­tin­ued by pre­sent­ing the pos­si­ble reper­cus­sions of the deci­sion: “The coun­tries that pro­duce seed oils, of which Spain is the leader, will now pro­mote that seed oils enriched with hydrox­y­ty­rosol and a‑tocopherol (which is actu­ally vit­a­min E and is already allowed as an addi­tive) can fight oxi­da­tion, some­thing that was an impor­tant sign of supe­ri­or­ity of olive oil…The deci­sion opens up a new era for olive oil and seed oils in the inter­na­tional mar­kets.”

Tyrosol or Tyrosols: Greek Agency’s Stance on Health Claim Comes Down to Semantics

I have been report­ing over the last year and a half on the debate raging in Greece on how to imple­ment the EU 432/2012 label­ing reg­u­la­tion. Despite the many attempts by sci­en­tists, olive grow­ers, olive mills and even mem­bers of the Greek Parliament to con­vince the Hellenic Food Safety Agency (EFET) to allow the mea­sure­ment of tyrosol deriv­a­tives the agency has so far refused.


With the EU reg­u­la­tion 432/2012, the antiox­i­dant prop­er­ties of olive oil were high­lighted. The reg­u­la­tion enabled stan­dard­ized olive oil to bear a health claim on its label saying that polyphe­nols can con­tribute to the pro­tec­tion of blood lipids from oxida­tive stress.

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This health claim can be used only for olive oils con­tain­ing at least 5 mg of hydrox­y­ty­rosol or its deriv­a­tives, and it is rec­om­mended that a person should con­sume a min­i­mum of 20 mg of olive oil a day for the claim to be effec­tive. It is worth noting that olive oil con­tains many phe­no­lic com­pounds, with the most impor­tant being oleu­ropein, hydrox­y­ty­rosol, and tyrosol.

Olive oil is also a source of a cer­tain vit­a­min like a‑tocopherol, Danellis men­tioned. To achieve this nutri­tional claim, food must ful­fill some other require­ments con­tained in the 432/2012 reg­u­la­tion.

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The 2017/2373 imple­ment­ing deci­sion of the European Commission is valid only for the spe­cific com­pany it is addressed to, and it limits the usage of the seed oils enriched with syn­thetic hydrox­y­ty­rosol to other than cook­ing. Nevertheless, it is a first step towards chang­ing some con­stants of the edible oil indus­try.

Experts in Greece warned that, fol­low­ing the global trend of dupli­cat­ing nat­ural sub­stances and ele­ments to use in drugs and food, this could be only the begin­ning of adding more human-made com­pounds to seed oils to threaten the estab­lished posi­tion of olive oil.