By Daniel Williams
Olive Oil Times Contributor | Reporting from Barcelona
In an effort to curb the dissemination of anonymous, and unregulated olive oil, the Socialist Party in Spain (PSOE) recently presented an initiative to the Commission of Environment and Agriculture in Spain’s Congress of Deputies seeking to prohibit the use of refillable, unmarked olive oil bottles in European restaurants and bars.
This initiative, publicly defended by Socialist deputy Alejandro Alonso, looks to eradicate the dangers of “anonymous serving bottles” which he claims, “greatly degrade the image of olive oil.” The party presented a proposition
confronting the issue to the government’s Lower House which they hope will
eventually put pressure on President Jose Luis Zapatero to try and establish
the proposal’s standards throughout the European Union.
Olive oil is served as a staple in typical Spanish restaurants as an accompaniment to bread or salad and usually comes in small, refillable serving bottles which mention nothing of the brand of oil inside, its grade and quality, or where it is produced.
Mr. Alonso, surrounded by the Spanish press, commented on the issue: “We’ve found that these serving bottles contain oils that sometimes are not olive oil at all, or not of adequate quality, and are sometimes mixes but above all, they debase the good name of the olive oils that we produce.”
The Socialist Party has publically proclaimed that this situation presents a direct threat to producers, as the olive oil contained in these bottles could very well be fraudulent or unregulated. They posit that the situation poses a similar danger to consumers, likening the olive oil situation to the consumption of alcohol taken from a refillable, unmarked bottle that details nothing of the product inside.
These issues have been brought to the forefront of the political debate by olive oil producers backed by certifiable Denominations of Origin. These producers fear that their more expensive olive oil is being passed over by restaurants and bars purchasing fraudulent or unregulated olive oil at prices below the industry standard in an effort to save money.
In the name of protecting producers and consumers alike, the Socialist Party has requested the establishment of specific standards which would unequivocally guarantee the quality of the olive oil served at restaurants and bars. Socialist deputy Francisco Reyes explained that the proposal would force establishments to serve all olive oil in closed, non-refillable bottles with specific labels identifying the brand and quality.
“As Socialists, we are conscientious of the importance of olive oil in our country and that is why it is necessary to develop a specific set of norms that will ensure the quality of olive oil that is given to our consumers,” Mr. Reyes explained.1
His colleague, Mr. Alonso added that the initiative would also serve to create and maintain jobs and stimulate the economy. “For that”, he said, “we have asked the Spanish parliament to insist that the Government defend and push forward this initiative, which will benefit the olive oil sector’s added value and will contribute in an efficient way to improve the guarantees of food security.“3
Members of Spain’s opposing Popular Party approved of the Socialist initiative, but advocated implementing the measure in Spain first before confronting the European Union with the proposition. Popular deputy Gabino Puche explained that, “it would be difficult to ask the European governing bodies to apply a norm which we are not capable of applying ourselves.“1
His Popular Party later proposed an amendment to the proposition which would first apply the regulation in Spain, regardless of whether it could eventually be applied throughout the European Union.
The counter-proposal was ultimately rejected by the Socialists and the proposition was approved exactly as it had been outlined initially. Now unanimously approved by the Congress of Deputies, the Socialists hope that the urgency of the proposal will warrant the attention of President Jose Luis Zapatero and eventually that of the European Union.
Regarding the application of the proposal throughout Spain, Socialist Deputy Alonso closed with a plea to the hotel and restaurant sector to voluntary accept the standards of the petition: “May we always rely on quality olive oil in restaurants which answer to clear identifications.”