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

Australia / NZ

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.” 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.”

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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.”

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