`Olive Oil Importers Lobby Congress to Oppose Marketing Order - Olive Oil Times

Olive Oil Importers Lobby Congress to Oppose Marketing Order

By Curtis Cord
Aug. 18, 2012 15:22 UTC

The law firm that lob­bies con­gress for Google, American Express and Dow Chemical has added another client; a group called the Alliance for Olive Oil Quality Standards.

The new group is made up of olive oil importers who oppose a move by California olive oil pro­duc­ers to pass a fed­eral mar­ket­ing order and impose stricter guide­lines on imported olive oils. The importers hope, as one put it, to cre­ate a quiet groundswell against this effort by the domes­tic indus­try.”

Public records show the group has retained the inter­na­tional law firm, Aiken Gump, for $80,000 in 2012 — the same amount paid by multi­na­tion­als Procter & Gamble and Siemen’s for the firm’s lob­by­ing ser­vices this year.

The mar­ket­ing order was first pre­sented last January at a con­fer­ence held in Dixon, California and later dis­cussed at a California State Senate sub­com­mit­tee infor­ma­tional hear­ing.

Marketing orders are enforced by the USDA at the request of domes­tic grow­ers to estab­lish qual­ity stan­dards and pool their resources. Domestic pro­duc­ers are push­ing to have olive oil added to the Section 8e list” of com­modi­ties which would force imported oils to meet the same cri­te­ria as those reg­u­lated by the mar­ket­ing order.

Olive oil is a global trade and changes to any mar­ket’s grade stan­dards affect pro­duc­ers in every region. But nowhere is there so much at stake for pro­duc­ers as in the U.S., which imports more olive oil than any other coun­try in the world.

There would be far less debate over stan­dards and qual­ity if it weren’t for scrappy New World olive oil upstarts in Australia and the U.S. weary from com­pet­ing with big European-sub­si­dized pro­duc­ers who for years have shipped the bot­tom of the bar­rel to for­eign mar­kets so famil­iar with the taste of ran­cid­ity, they thought it was nor­mal.

California pro­duc­ers pro­vide less than 2 per­cent of the olive oil Americans con­sume, but they have ambi­tions to sup­ply much more than that and dif­fer­en­ti­at­ing their prod­ucts in the mar­ket is the key.

In 2010, the California Olive Oil Council led a suc­cess­ful cam­paign seen as a vital first step that resulted in the USDA updat­ing its 1948 stan­dards for olive oil, effec­tively synch­ing the unen­forced U.S. guide­lines with rules estab­lished by the International Olive Council.

Also in 2010, a widely-pub­li­cized study by the University of California at Davis found most imported olive oils to be sub­stan­dard. That touched off some­thing of a test­ing frenzy with reports com­ing in from all over the world that found con­sumers often didn’t get the olive oil qual­ity they paid for.

The December, 2011 book by Tom Mueller; Extra Virginity, the Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil, and the media tour that fol­lowed, cast more light on the olive oil qual­ity issue. Mueller recently started Truth in Olive Oil which he described on his blog as a cit­i­zen’s move­ment” for olive oil qual­ity.

And Australian Olive Association President Paul Miller has been work­ing on a World Olive Oil Quality Alliance antic­i­pated to be a coun­ter­bal­ance to the International Olive Council. If we can get it so what is gen­uine extra vir­gin, is traded as such and what isn’t, isn’t — it would just trans­form the indus­try,” he told Olive Oil Times last October when he began work­ing on the project. Miller said an announce­ment on its sta­tus would be made before the end of this month.

Such devel­op­ments have mobi­lized American importers alarmed by the thought of a new set of rules in the world’s largest mar­ket. Last month their trade group, the North American Olive Oil Association, peti­tioned the FDA to for­mally adopt the inter­na­tional stan­dards with hopes of bring­ing the qual­ity debate to a tidy end.

An importer who sup­ports the new alliance called the mar­ket­ing order a prob­lem­atic move” that would impose a huge new admin­is­tra­tive bur­den and require sig­nif­i­cant alter­ations to sup­ply chains.”

During the Senate mark-up of the Farm Bill an amend­ment was offered to move olive oil to the 8e list and was rejected. However, the stalled House draft of the Farm Bill includes lan­guage that would add olive oil to the 8e list.

Congress faces reau­tho­riza­tion of the cur­rent five-year farm bill because many of its pro­vi­sions expire in 2012.

The Senate approved its ver­sion on June 21, 2012; the House Agriculture Committee con­ducted markup of its ver­sion on July 11. Floor action on the House farm bill is pend­ing.


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