California Approves Olive Oil Standards

The California olive oil industry is cheering as the state adopts new standards for olive oil produced in the state.

California olive oil pro­duc­ers are cheer­ing as the state approved stricter stan­dards on the label­ing and grad­ing of olive oil Thursday.

The rules will go into effect on September 26 for California pro­duc­ers with out­put of at least 5,000 gal­lons per year, which applies to an esti­mated 100 grow­ers and about a dozen mills.

California pro­duc­ers, who sup­ply approx­i­mately two per­cent of the American olive oil needs, have been vocal pro­po­nents of the new reg­u­la­tions, seek­ing to dif­fer­en­ti­ate their prod­ucts from imported olive oils which they say are often sub­stan­dard. And while the new rules only affect olive oil pro­duced in California, indus­try observers say the ulti­mate aim is to have stricter stan­dards apply to imports as well.

The approval of the stan­dards marks a vic­tory for the fledg­ling California olive oil indus­try, which hopes that new test­ing and label­ing require­ments will pro­vide a boost for locally-pro­duced olive oil, while chip­ping away at the mar­ket advan­tages long held by imports from Spain, Italy and Tunisia.

The Olive Oil Commission of California (OOCC), made up of olive grow­ers and millers from across the state, sub­mit­ted a set of pro­posed stan­dards to the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) ear­lier this year. On July 15, the depart­ment held a hear­ing to record tes­ti­mony and evi­dence from olive oil han­dlers, olive grow­ers and the gen­eral pub­lic on the pro­posed Grade and Labeling Standards for Olive oil, Refined-Olive Oil and Olive-Pomace Oil.

Local pro­duc­ers includ­ing California Olive Ranch, the state’s largest, will soon be able to say they are held to a higher stan­dard.

After spend­ing the sum­mer ana­lyz­ing the infor­ma­tion col­lected dur­ing the hear­ing, the depart­ment decided to imple­ment the pro­posed stan­dards, with just a few excep­tions.

“The California olive indus­try will now be able to dis­tin­guish itself as the authen­tic, pre­mium-qual­ity, extra vir­gin olive oil pro­ducer to American con­sumers,” Jeff Columbini, chair of the OOCC said in a release. “Consumers will now be able to know that when they are pur­chas­ing and con­sum­ing California extra vir­gin olive oil, it truly is 100 per­cent extra vir­gin olive oil.”

The new stan­dards include more pre­cise meth­ods for test­ing adul­ter­ation, known as PPP and DAGs, and the ban­ning of mis­lead­ing mar­ket­ing terms for refined oils such as “light” and “pure.” The bench­mark for free fatty acid­ity (FFA) is set to 0.5 per­cent, below the inter­na­tional stan­dard of 0.8 per­cent.

The only pro­posed stan­dards that failed to make the cut were purity para­me­ters that were less strict than those already in place in the California Health and Safety Code, and another that attempted to reg­u­late the label­ing of food ingre­di­ents.

The pro­posal sug­gested that when olive oil is used as an ingre­di­ent in pre­pared food, the label must spec­ify the grade used. However, that type of reg­u­la­tion was found to be beyond the scope of the stan­dards as well as beyond the author­ity of the California Marketing Act.

Extra vir­gin olive oil is defined as “olive oil that has a free acid­ity, expressed as free oleic acid, of not more than 0.5 grams per 100 grams, a median of defects equal to 0, and the other char­ac­ter­is­tics which cor­re­spond to the lim­its fixed for this grade in these stan­dards. Extra vir­gin olive oil is fit for con­sump­tion with­out fur­ther pro­cess­ing.”

The stan­dards explic­itly define three grades of olive oil, two grades of refined-olive oil, and three grades of olive-pomace oil.

State sen­a­tor Lois Wolk (D‑Davis), chair of the Senate Agriculture Subcommittee on Olive Oil Production and Emerging Products, said she was pleased with the depart­men­t’s deci­sion to move for­ward with the stan­dards.

“Today’s deci­sion is not only good for con­sumers, but also helps strengthen the com­pet­i­tive­ness of California’s olive oil indus­try,” she said in a release.

Wolk authored the leg­is­la­tion estab­lish­ing the com­mis­sion that stud­ied the pro­posed stan­dards.



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