`Gawel: IOC Response to Olive Oil Standards More "Rhetoric" - Olive Oil Times

Gawel: IOC Response to Olive Oil Standards More "Rhetoric"

Feb. 25, 2011
Sarah Schwager

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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.” 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”.

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.”

The standard’s draft­ing leader Leandro Ravetti said that while he was unable to com­ment while the draft stan­dard was open for pub­lic com­ment, Standards Australia and the com­mit­tee work­ing on the olive oil stan­dard take all mat­ters, par­tic­u­larly any accu­sa­tion involv­ing tech­ni­cal bar­ri­ers to trade, very seri­ously.

He also men­tioned that the IOC com­ment is just one of hun­dreds of com­ments received so far.

Gawel also crit­i­cized the IOC for fail­ing to pro­vide data that sup­port its ratio­nales, such as how it sets campes­terol lim­its. IOC’s response to the draft stan­dard pro­vides a table entry enti­tled ref­er­ence doc­u­ments”, which pro­vides a link to the home page of its own web­site, which does not list any ref­er­ence doc­u­ments on how their lim­its are set.

What is impor­tant is why campes­terol is set at 4 per­cent rather than 4.5 or 4.8 or even 2 per­cent,” Dr. Gawel said. No one argues that campes­terol is found in higher lev­els in seed oils than olive oil, so that very high campes­terol lev­els in olive oils can be seen as a smok­ing gun for adul­ter­ation.

However, by its nature, this sort of evi­dence is cir­cum­stan­tial. Different EVOOs vary nat­u­rally in this com­po­nent and do so quite sub­stan­tially. So the real ques­tion is exactly how much cir­cum­stan­tial evi­dence is required before it becomes a hangable offense?” He says the Australian stan­dard has actu­ally pub­li­cally pro­vided data to sup­port its ratio­nale.

“[IOC’s] claims of being the pre­mier world orga­ni­za­tion over­see­ing olive oil’ don’t go any way to sup­port­ing their case. Surely if they were con­fi­dent of their case, they would be splash­ing the data around every­where for all and sundry to see.”

Paul Miller, pres­i­dent of the Australian Olive Association, said while he hasn’t seen the IOC response as he is in Malaysia at the Codex Alimentarius Fats and Oils Committee in sup­port of the Australian gov­ern­ment del­e­ga­tion deal­ing with some olive oil mat­ters, he is cer­tain that the process of devel­op­ing such a stan­dard in Australia is a com­pre­hen­sive and com­pe­tent one.

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From what I have been told the IOC com­ments seem to be effec­tively crit­i­cal of the process,” he said.

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