The International Olive Council’s (IOC) recent response to the proposed Australian and New Zealand olive oil standards released in December has been met with marked skepticism by Australia’s olive oil heavyweights. The IOC recommended the guidelines be reconsidered, labeling them potential “barriers to international trade” that could actually “make it easier for adulteration”.
Its response is basically a very detailed list of all the ways that the draft of the Australian and New Zealand standard differs from the provisions of the IOC trade standard. There is little explanation of why the IOC’s limits are more appropriate or evidence to support its logic.
Olive oil expert Richard Gawel said the statement that the new chemical standard will be a barrier to trade is more rhetoric than fact. “The foreword to the standard states that any divergence from the IOC standards was based on solid data collected regarding the ranges in the natural chemistry of Australian olive oils,” Dr. Gawel said.
“What this has meant was that a couple of standards were relaxed. If anything this should make free trade easier. Common sense would dictate that free trade is restricted when standards are tightened not relaxed.” Dr. Gawel said it seems the IOC is more concerned about the proposed tests for DAGs and phyropheophytins.
“The latter in particular has the potential to stem the flow of old stored up EU oil which no doubt graces our shores on a regular basis,” Dr. Gawel said. “But that is what standards are about. Making sure that consumers get what they think they are paying for.”
On the other hand, Graham Aitken, of New Zealand olive oil importer William Aitken & Co., lashed out at statements that Australia and New Zealand do not believe that existing IOC rules adequately protect the region’s consumers and producers. He said that as someone very involved in the New Zealand olive oil market, he can affirm that this is not a commonly held view.
Last year, Australian consumer organization Choice published a survey that showed that many imported olive oils available in supermarkets were unreliable, with 50% of those tested failing to meet minimum label standards. One of these was Lupi Extra Virgin, New Zealand’s biggest selling brand, of which William Aitken & Co. is its New Zealand importer.
At the time Mr. Aitken said that New Zealand samples of the oil were often sent to independent European laboratories for testing, and “… invariably they come back certified as EVOO under IOC standards”.
Dr. Gawel said the draft standard is not only directed at imported oils, with Australian producers and importers likely to be just as affected. He said consumer research conducted in Australia shows that the strongest driving force to purchasing extra virgin olive oil is its perceived health benefits, with old oil not as healthy as fresh oil. He said the new standards may restrict the trade of old oil.
“The Australian industry is large enough for there to be residual oil from a previous season sitting in a tank somewhere. So the Europeans aren’t alone in this. Standards can only restrict trade if they are deliberately set so that one group can meet them and another necessarily can’t. I can’t see how this could be the case here.”