Australia / NZ

Leandro Ravetti on Australia's Proposed Olive Oil Standards

Jan. 18, 2011
By Sarah Schwager

Recent News

By Sarah Schwager
Olive Oil Times Contributor | Reporting from Buenos Aires

Earlier this month, details of a draft were released of the first stan­dard to address olive oil and olive-pomace oil in Australia and New Zealand.  Drafting leader Leandro Ravetti told Olive Oil Times what he thinks it all means for olive oil pro­duc­ers, importers and con­sumers.

The pro­posed stan­dards for Australia and New Zealand were expected to shake up the world’s olive oil indus­try by being the first to prop­erly address mis­la­bel­ing issues and the qual­ity of extra virgin olive oil.

Consumers are cur­rently misled by false and con­fus­ing label­ing prac­tices.- Leandro Ravetti

“Unscrupulous oper­a­tors who are cur­rently prof­it­ing from the sig­nif­i­cant price dif­fer­ence avail­able by decep­tively re-sell­ing seed oils and/or infe­rior qual­ity olive oil as high-value extra virgin olive oil will be seri­ously affected by this new reg­u­la­tion,” Leandro Ravetti said. “Meanwhile, gen­uine and honest oper­a­tors from Australia, New Zealand and over­seas will receive the advan­tage of a level play­ing field where their higher qual­ity prod­ucts are pro­tected and rec­og­nized.”

While there has been much scan­dal recently in Australia about the qual­ity of local versus imported olive oils sold in super­mar­kets, Mr. Ravetti said he prefers to talk about honest and high qual­ity pro­duc­ers or unscrupu­lous oper­a­tors regard­less of where they are located. “There is sig­nif­i­cant Australian and over­seas evi­dence indi­cat­ing that large per­cent­ages of olive oils world­wide are mis­la­beled, adul­ter­ated with other seed oils or have been bot­tled using infe­rior oil,” he said.

Advertisement

“At the same time, con­sumers are being misled into believ­ing they are pur­chas­ing a healthy prod­uct (EVOO) that is nat­ural, fresh and not refined. This is often not the case or they are being deceived, paying for what they believe to be a par­tic­u­lar grade of olive oil which in many cases is either a lower grade or in some cases not olive oil.”

Born and bred in Argentina and con­sid­ered one of its top olive researchers, the agri­cul­tural engi­neer who moved to Australia in 2001 to join Boundary Bend as its tech­ni­cal direc­tor is now regarded among Australia’s most qual­i­fied and expe­ri­enced advi­sors.

A member of the Standards Australia Technical Committee FT-034 Olive Oil rep­re­sent­ing Australian olive grow­ers, Ravetti was in charge of writ­ing the Standard, fol­low­ing direc­tions received from a tech­ni­cal com­mit­tee of vary­ing rep­re­sen­ta­tives through­out the indus­try, and col­lat­ing and resolv­ing their com­ments and obser­va­tions.

Advertisement

Mr. Ravetti said while the draft Australian and New Zealand stan­dard and inter­na­tional stan­dards (such as the Codex Standard for Olive Oils and Olive-Pomace Oils, the International Olive Council Trade Standard on Olive Oils and Olive-Pomace Oils, the European Commission Regulation on the char­ac­ter­is­tics of olive oil and olive-residue oil, and the US Standards for Grades of Olive Oil and Olive-Pomace Oil) have a number of areas in common, par­tic­u­larly regard­ing world­wide rec­og­nized ana­lyt­i­cal method­olo­gies and crit­i­cal limits, the new pro­posed stan­dard sig­nif­i­cantly dif­fers in a number of aspects.

These include a sim­pler and clearer com­mer­cial denom­i­na­tion of the dif­fer­ent cat­e­gories of olive oils and olive-pomace oils “in order to avoid the cur­rent mis­lead­ing and con­fus­ing terms”; a review of the range limits for a number of chem­i­cal para­me­ters in order to avoid gen­uine olive oil (par­tic­u­larly Australian and New Zealand olive oil) being excluded for its nat­ural vari­a­tion in com­po­si­tion; the intro­duc­tion of recently devel­oped ana­lyt­i­cal meth­ods which are capa­ble of detect­ing modern refin­ing tech­niques not cur­rently detectable by the older method­olo­gies included in the exist­ing stan­dards; and the intro­duc­tion of a best before date policy which is cur­rently “miss­ing in all other stan­dards”.

Advertisement

Mr. Ravetti said none of the inter­na­tional stan­dards accom­mo­date the nat­ural vari­a­tion of the oils pro­duced in Australia and New Zealand.

“Australia, through the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry and with rep­re­sen­ta­tion from the Australian olive indus­try, has made sev­eral attempts to intro­duce some of the pro­posed changes to olive oil stan­dards in the Codex Alimentarius Commission Committee on Fats and Oils,” he said. “At each stage there has been oppo­si­tion from other coun­tries, par­tic­u­larly the European Union, but in my view with­out solid sci­en­tific or tech­ni­cal grounds for such oppo­si­tion.”

Mr. Ravetti said the main rea­sons why Australia and New Zealand are now pur­su­ing a “tech­ni­cally sound and con­sumer-ori­ented set of stan­dards” for olive oil is to address the fact that con­sumers are cur­rently misled by false and/or con­fus­ing label­ing prac­tices, which may result in the unknow­ing pur­chase of prod­ucts of infe­rior qual­ity and/or lower health attrib­utes.

“Many high qual­ity Australian and New Zealand oils are not rec­og­nized inter­na­tion­ally, with arbi­trary stan­dards being uti­lized as trad­ing bar­ri­ers against nat­ural vari­a­tions in minor com­po­nents that have no rel­e­vance to the actual qual­ity of the oils,” he said.

Mr. Ravetti believes the main fea­tures of the draft stan­dard are its strong focus on pro­tect­ing con­sumers and its empha­sis on EVOO as the high­est qual­ity grade. The stan­dard pro­poses new grade denom­i­na­tions which he said are easier to under­stand.

“For exam­ple, the new doc­u­ment pro­poses to call a blend of refined olive oil and other olive oils ‘Refined Olive Oil Blend’ instead of con­fus­ing terms cur­rently used such as ‘Extra light’ or ‘Pure Olive Oil’.”

It also incor­po­rates new ana­lyt­i­cal tech­niques and a best before date policy aimed at pro­tect­ing and encour­ag­ing the fresh­ness of EVOO as well as detect­ing fraud­u­lent prac­tices.

Advertisement

Regarding the deci­sion to set the level of free acid­ity in EVOO at 0.8 in line with the inter­na­tional stan­dards, Mr. Ravetti said while he is not in a posi­tion to be able to pub­licly dis­cuss any aspects that have been debated within the Technical Committee, per­son­ally he is in favor of the idea of lower free acid­ity levels for EVOO.

“But we must remem­ber that the pro­posed doc­u­ment is the result of con­sen­sus reached amongst a large number of stake­hold­ers,” he said. “It seems clear through­out the new doc­u­ment that all changes in com­par­i­son with inter­na­tional leg­is­la­tions were intro­duced only when absolutely nec­es­sary and very well sup­ported by tech­ni­cal evi­dence.”

He said it is impor­tant to high­light that some of the new chem­istry, such as the dia­cyl­glyc­erols (DAGs) analy­sis, would limit the pres­ence of oils with high free acidi­ties that they may fail this test during the shelf life of the prod­uct.

Mr. Ravetti said it is also impor­tant to note that the stan­dard will be a vol­un­tary doc­u­ment and will only have legal force if called up by reg­u­la­tors or in con­tracts.

* The opin­ions expressed in this arti­cle are Mr. Ravetti’s per­sonal opin­ions and do not nec­es­sar­ily rep­re­sent the views of Standards Australia or the Technical Committee on the draft stan­dards.