Europe Rolls Out New Rules Governing Olive Oil Quality

Brussels reviewed olive oil classifications, labeling and marketing. The simplified rules aim at a more homogeneous E.U. olive oil market.
By Paolo DeAndreis
Nov. 30, 2022 14:32 UTC

The European Union’s new reg­u­la­tions regard­ing olive oil qual­ity and label­ing came into force at the end of November.

The two doc­u­ments approved a few months ago and recently pub­lished in the Official Journal of the E.U. pri­mar­ily inte­grate pre­vi­ous reg­u­la­tions to improve effi­ciency.

The European Commission explained that the need for a com­pre­hen­sive update comes from the expe­ri­ence acquired over the last decade [which] shows that cer­tain aspects of the reg­u­la­tory frame­work need to be sim­pli­fied and clar­i­fied.”

See Also:New European Label Recognizes Health Benefits of High-Polyphenol EVOOs

The cor­rect adop­tion of olive oil clas­si­fi­ca­tion meth­ods and the truth­ful label­ing for olive oil are among the main items cov­ered by the Delegated Regulation 2022/2104 and the Implementing Regulation 2022/2105.

As they intro­duced the reg­u­la­tion, the European Commission said com­pli­ance and con­for­mity checks are nec­es­sary.

The com­mis­sion noted how olive oil qual­ity, explic­itly regard­ing organolep­tic and chem­i­cal pro­files, set it apart from other veg­etable and seed oils. It added that the pro­duc­t’s unique qual­i­ties make the need to pre­vent fraud espe­cially poignant in the sec­tor.

According to the com­mis­sion, olive oil pro­files must be ana­lyzed using the pro­to­cols devel­oped by the International Olive Council, of which the E.U. is a mem­ber. The IOC’s pro­to­cols require form­ing pan­els of selected and trained tasters.

To ensure uni­for­mity in the imple­men­ta­tion, min­i­mum require­ments for the approval of pan­els should be set out,” the com­mis­sion wrote. In view of the dif­fi­cul­ties that some mem­ber states encounter in set­ting up tast­ing pan­els, the use of pan­els in other mem­ber states should be autho­rized.”

Other cru­cial areas where the reg­u­la­tions inte­grate the pre­vi­ous rules include label­ing. The com­mis­sion’s goal is to man­date labels that are highly vis­i­ble, easy to read and con­tain all the nec­es­sary infor­ma­tion about the pro­duc­t’s con­tents.

The label should also inform con­sumers about the stor­age con­di­tions of the prod­uct, as numer­ous sci­en­tific stud­ies have demon­strated that light and heat adversely affect the qual­ity of olive oil.”

The label­ing reg­u­la­tions are meant to ensure that ade­quate and cor­rect infor­ma­tion on the prod­uct enables the con­sumer to choose,” Roberta Capecci and Roberto Ciancio, offi­cials at the Italian cen­tral inspec­torate of qual­ity pro­tec­tion and fraud pre­ven­tion of agri-food prod­ucts (ICQRF), told Olive Oil Times.

Sometimes mark­ers use mes­sages that attract the atten­tion of the con­sumer, empha­siz­ing prod­uct char­ac­ter­is­tics not cov­ered by the… rules and which may not com­ply with E.U. and national pro­vi­sions,” they added.

Labeling, there­fore, is the meet­ing point of two dif­fer­ent needs: that of the pro­ducer, who wants to ade­quately pro­mote his or her olive oil by dif­fer­en­ti­at­ing it from oth­ers, and that of the con­sumers, who want to know exactly what they are buy­ing,” Capecci and Ciancio con­tin­ued.

Current European food safety reg­u­la­tions pro­hibit mis­lead­ing infor­ma­tion on labels regard­ing qual­ity, pro­duc­tion process or food ori­gin.

When it comes to the olive oil sec­tor, the E.U. reg­u­la­tion… now imple­mented in reg­u­la­tion 2022/2014 pro­vides for more spe­cific rules related to olive oil ori­gin, the pro­ce­dures con­cern­ing the sup­ply of cer­tain manda­tory details, the rules gov­ern­ing the optional par­tic­u­lars con­cern­ing the method of pro­duc­tion, such as cold-pressed, extract/first press­ing and for the chem­i­cal and organolep­tic char­ac­ter­is­tics of the oil and the har­vest year,” Capecci and Ciancio said.

The com­mis­sion wrote that labels should always inform the con­sumer of the pro­duc­t’s ori­gin, includ­ing whether it is a blend of olives or olive oils from dif­fer­ent regions or coun­tries.

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If the olive har­vest and olive trans­for­ma­tion took place in dif­fer­ent coun­tries, that infor­ma­tion would have to be men­tioned on the label, with few excep­tions.

As a result of agri­cul­tural tra­di­tions and local extrac­tion and blend­ing prac­tices, directly mar­ketable vir­gin olive oils may be of quite dif­fer­ent taste and qual­ity depend­ing on their place of ori­gin,” the com­mis­sion wrote.

This may result in price dif­fer­ences within the same cat­e­gory that dis­turb the mar­ket,” it added. There are no sub­stan­tial dif­fer­ences linked to ori­gin in other cat­e­gories of edi­ble olive oil, and so indi­cat­ing the place of ori­gin on the pack­ag­ing of such oil may lead con­sumers to believe that qual­ity dif­fer­ences do exist.”

The only highly-spe­cific regional indi­ca­tions allowed on labels are related to PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) and PGI (Protected Geographical Indication) cer­ti­fi­ca­tions. All other prod­ucts must be labeled accord­ing to the coun­try of ori­gin, not its regions or provinces.

When it comes to extra vir­gin olive oils, the ori­gin is a manda­tory indi­ca­tion,” Capecci and Ciancio said. When an olive oil is iden­ti­fied on the label as Italian, it means that it has been pro­duced in Italy only using Italian olives.”

Still, it is not unusual to find labels that only par­tially com­ply with the cur­rent reg­u­la­tions. In the ICQRF’s expe­ri­ence, this mostly hap­pens when the indi­ca­tion of ori­gin is involved.

To pro­mote their prod­uct, some­times the pro­ducer includes not only the national ori­gin of the oil but also the spe­cific regional, provin­cial or munic­i­pal ori­gin of the olives,” Capecci and Ciancio said.

In such a case, the oper­a­tor will be fined, and if the ori­gin of those olives is found to be not the one stated on the labels, then the whole thing becomes fraud in the exer­cise of trade which belongs to the crim­i­nal sphere,” they added.

European label­ing rules do not reg­u­late the infor­ma­tion about the cul­ti­vars used in olive oil pro­duc­tion. However, a few coun­tries have adopted their own rules about it.

At a national level (in Italy), some spe­cific reg­u­la­tions have been intro­duced,” Capecci and Ciancio said. They ensure the infor­ma­tion pro­vided on the label be truth­ful.”

“[Such tools are] the out­lin­ing of the cul­ti­vars in the offi­cial busi­ness pro­file [of the farm] and the detailed trace­abil­ity of the sin­gle lots of olive oil reported in the telem­atic reg­is­ter of oils,” they added.

In many coun­tries where olive oil pro­duc­tion is part of a long-stand­ing fam­ily tra­di­tion, a sig­nif­i­cant per­cent­age of the over­all national yield is con­sumed at home. In many cases, fam­i­lies and small grow­ers with a sur­plus of olive oil may sell it locally.

However, the cur­rent reg­u­la­tions pro­hibit this prac­tice as all prod­ucts on sale for con­sumers or restau­rants must be pack­aged and labeled accord­ing to the new rules. This means that pack­ag­ing oper­a­tions must be con­ducted by a legally-sanc­tioned oper­a­tor whose olive oil lots are reported in the national reg­istry.

Specific fines are cur­rently pro­vided for such vio­la­tions, such as the €800 to €4,800 fine for the sale of olive oil pack­aged in con­tain­ers that do not have an ade­quate clo­sure lock­ing sys­tem,” Capecci and Ciancio warned.

As a mat­ter of fact, European Union reg­u­la­tions and the national reg­u­la­tions about the olive oil sec­tor define highly spe­cific rules when it comes to label­ing, with the aim of offer­ing the con­sumers trans­par­ent and truth­ful infor­ma­tion,” they added.

Other aspects cov­ered by the new E.U. reg­u­la­tions include the age of the prod­uct” declared on the labels.

Operators should be allowed to indi­cate the har­vest year on the label of extra vir­gin and vir­gin olive oils but only when 100 per­cent of the con­tents of the con­tainer come from a sin­gle har­vest­ing year,” the com­mis­sion wrote.

Since the olive har­vest usu­ally begins dur­ing the autumn and ends by spring in the fol­low­ing year, it is appro­pri­ate to clar­ify how to label the har­vest­ing year,” it added.

With an October 13th deci­sion (2022/2103), the E.U. also announced the offi­cial posi­tion on the planned elim­i­na­tion of the ordi­nary vir­gin olive oil” cat­e­gory by the IOC.

The E.U. will sup­port the IOC’s deci­sion to remove ordi­nary vir­gin olive oil” as an offi­cial olive oil cat­e­gory, as it is already excluded by the pre­vi­ous E.U. rules and their most recent updates.

The pre­vi­ous IOC stan­dard spec­i­fied ordi­nary vir­gin olive oil” as a vir­gin olive oil defined by the pres­ence of oleic acid in no more than 3.3 grams per 100 grams.


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