`California Senators Hear Industry's Call for a 'Level Playing Field' - Olive Oil Times

California Senators Hear Industry's Call for a 'Level Playing Field'

Jan. 28, 2012
Curtis Cord

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Senator Lois Wolk (left), Adam Englehardt, Paul Miller, Bob Bauer, Dan Flynn

A new California State Senate Subcommittee on Olive oil and Emerging Products held an infor­ma­tional hear­ing Thursday before a packed room and an audi­ence of hun­dreds who watched live via a web­cast.

The ses­sion was chaired by State Senator Lois Wolk (D‑Davis), who recently attended the olive oil qual­ity sem­i­nar at the Culinary Institute of America’s Napa Valley cam­pus, and another indus­try meet­ing in Dixon, California on a pro­posed mar­ket­ing order.

The law­mak­ers heard tes­ti­mony from UC Davis Olive Center Director Dan Flynn, author Tom Mueller, Caliifornia Olive Ranch Vice President Adam Englehardt, Mike Bradley of Veronica Foods, Australian Olive Association’s Paul Miller, North American Olive Oil Association President Bob Bauer and oth­ers.

The pro­ces­sion of speak­ers pre­sented accounts of the chal­lenges faced by the state’s olive oil pro­duc­ers who con­front, they said, unfair com­pe­ti­tion from unscrupu­lous European pro­duc­ers and importers who don’t play by the rules.

It began with Flynn’s recount of last April’s widely pub­li­cized report that found nearly three-quar­ters of imported olive oil in California super­mar­kets to be mis­la­beled. Next, Tom Mueller gave a deftly worded account of the olive oil under­world that has been caus­ing quite a stir along his whis­tle-stop tour to pro­mote his new book, Extra Virginity.


Listen to remarks by Tom Mueller:


Adam Englehardt, a fifth-gen­er­a­tion farmer who man­ages the orchards for the state’s largest olive oil pro­ducer spoke about the promise and suit­abil­ity of the olive crop for the state. Straightforward and con­vinc­ing, Englehardt said, What stands in the way of expan­sion (of olive cul­ti­va­tion in California) is a level play­ing field.”

Mike Bradley gave a dra­matic pre­sen­ta­tion of olive oil con­tain­ers he found on store shelves car­ry­ing labels that exhib­ited aston­ish­ing, and ille­gal, mis­in­for­ma­tion that prompted audi­ble gasps and looks of dis­be­lief from sen­a­tors and onlook­ers.

At one point Senator Berryhill said, This is the most inter­est­ing infor­ma­tional meet­ing I have ever been to.” And there was lit­tle doubt that an agri­cul­tural sub­com­mit­tee for a state only begin­ning to make olive oil would not often hear the drama and deceit described by the speak­ers before them and with which this indus­try has been rife for cen­turies.

There was also lit­tle doubt they planned to do some­thing about it. Senator Berryhill (R‑Stanislaus) com­pared the olive sec­tor to the state’s grape indus­try and said, What we’re doing here today is start­ing the process of try­ing to come up with some­thing that makes sense for every­body,” and there were signs that an indus­try mar­ket­ing order would likely be among the first steps taken.

It was­n’t as easy an audi­ence for the NAOOA’s Bob Bauer, whose orga­ni­za­tion rep­re­sents some of the importers impli­cated by oth­ers in the room. This was clearly an away game for Bauer, and one might have expected a cau­tious we also want to force out the bad guys” approach (he did recount a time when he saw an ille­gal label in a super­mar­ket and duti­fully called the pro­ducer directly, right from the store).

But then pre­dictably Bauer turned to main­tain that the new test­ing meth­ods employed by Flynn’s lab and oth­ers to iden­tify bad olive oil, known as the PPP and DAG tests, were rejected by the world experts on olive oil.” He called taste tests, where cer­ti­fied pan­els of expert tasters declare a sam­ple free of defects or not, unsuit­able for the clas­si­fi­ca­tion of olive oil” since they are, he said, sub­ject to bias.” And Bauer warned that an indus­try mar­ket­ing order would be costly and detri­men­tal to pub­lic health,” since it would make olive oil less afford­able for con­sumers.”

The hear­ing was a remark­able exhi­bi­tion of the bat­tle lines being drawn by a young domes­tic indus­try seek­ing to estab­lish rules and demol­ish the long-held advan­tages enjoyed by inter­na­tional traders of low qual­ity olive oils.

Part 1 of the 2‑hour hear­ing can be viewed here, and part 2, here.

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