`Trade Group Petitions FDA for Olive Oil Standard of Identity

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Trade Group Petitions FDA for Olive Oil Standard of Identity

May. 27, 2020
Daniel Dawson

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The North Amer­i­can Olive Oil Asso­ci­a­tion (NAOOA), a trade group, has filed a cit­i­zen peti­tion with the United States Food and Drug Admin­is­tra­tion ask­ing the agency to cre­ate a stan­dard of iden­tity (SOI) for olive oil and olive-pomace oils.

The NAOOA argues that the stan­dards are nec­es­sary to pro­tect Amer­i­can con­sumers and pro­mote hon­est and fair deal­ing” in the indus­try.

To the extent an SOI will cre­ate a sin­gle uni­form stan­dard defin­ing olive oil and olive-pomace oils, this will alle­vi­ate con­fu­sion about types and qual­ity, and it will give more con­sumers con­fi­dence.- Joseph R. Pro­faci, exec­u­tive direc­tor of the NAOOA

A stan­dard of iden­tity would cre­ate a uni­form, national stan­dard for olive oil,” Joseph R. Pro­faci, the exec­u­tive direc­tor of the NAOOA, told Olive Oil Times. We believe this would help remove long-stand­ing bar­ri­ers to Amer­i­cans con­sum­ing more olive oil.”

The adop­tion of our peti­tion would bring clar­ity to olive oil labels, restrict the use of poten­tially mis­lead­ing terms like pure’ and extra light,’ ensure olive oil authen­tic­ity by using the lat­est sci­en­tif­i­cally backed stan­dards and method­olo­gies and pro­vide a novel way to update the stan­dard in the future as sci­ence and tech­nol­ogy evolve,” he added.

See more: Olive Oil Stan­dards

In 1979, the FDA ruled that there was no need for an olive oil stan­dard, cit­ing a lack of data in favor of hav­ing one. How­ever, the agency left the door open to recon­sid­er­ing the issue.

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The NAOOA unsuc­cess­fully peti­tioned the FDA to update olive oil stan­dards in 1990 and 2012.

How­ever, in 2018, the FDA announced that it would begin to look into adopt­ing stan­dards of iden­tity for var­i­ous agri-food sec­tors as a tool to empower con­sumers to make bet­ter and more informed deci­sions about their diets and health.”

It seems the FDA had olive oil in mind with this announce­ment,” Pro­faci said. And this time we have sup­ported our peti­tion with con­sumer research data, which the FDA has indi­cated is crit­i­cal for estab­lish­ing a need’ for a stan­dard of iden­tity.”

Joseph R. Profaci (OOT file)

In the peti­tion, the NAOOA argues that a new olive oil stan­dard will help Amer­i­cans make informed and healthy deci­sions about the prod­ucts they buy and that U.S. gov­ern­ment health poli­cies inform con­sumers’ per­cep­tions of the health ben­e­fits of cer­tain foods.

How­ever, the group asserts that the cur­rent olive oil stan­dards con­fuse Amer­i­cans and pre­vent them from con­sum­ing more olive oil.

The NAOOA said they could back these claims with responses from a rep­re­sen­ta­tive con­sumer sur­vey of 1,500 Amer­i­can adults, which was admin­is­tered by the asso­ci­a­tion ear­lier this year.

We found sig­nif­i­cant con­fu­sion around olive oil, par­tic­u­larly with regard to label­ing and ter­mi­nol­ogy,” Pro­faci said. For exam­ple, nearly one in three Amer­i­cans don’t believe or aren’t sure olive oil comes from olives.”

Also accord­ing to the results, 60 per­cent of respon­dents said they did not know what the terms vir­gin and refined referred to with respect to cook­ing oils. Addi­tion­ally, 64 per­cent of respon­dents did not believe the word extra” on the label had any mean­ing other than as a mar­ket­ing ploy.

Pro­faci and the NAOOA argue that a lack of con­sumer knowl­edge directly impacts olive oil sales.

To the extent a stan­dard of iden­tity will cre­ate a sin­gle uni­form stan­dard defin­ing olive oil and olive-pomace oils, this will alle­vi­ate con­fu­sion about types and qual­ity, and it will give more con­sumers con­fi­dence to make choices for their health among the var­i­ous olive oil prod­ucts,” Pro­faci wrote in the peti­tion.

The NAOOA also con­tends that a uni­form stan­dard will make it eas­ier for both pri­vate orga­ni­za­tions and gov­ern­ments to detect fraud and catch those com­mit­ting it.

Cur­rently, each state in the U.S. is respon­si­ble for defin­ing and enforc­ing olive oil stan­dards. As a result, hold­ing bad actors to account is nearly impos­si­ble in states with­out stan­dards.

An enforce­able national stan­dard will give indus­try the tools it needs to step up self-enforce­ment to pro­tect con­sumers from being vic­tim­ized,” Pro­faci wrote.

The NAOOA has asked the FDA to base the olive oil stan­dards on those set by the Codex Ali­men­ta­r­ius, the inter­na­tional food safety and stan­dards body, with some changes made to var­i­ous sec­tions of the codex.

Included in the devi­a­tions would be scrap­ping the cur­rent cat­e­gory sys­tem and replac­ing it with a sim­pli­fied one.

The Codex cur­rently lists three cat­e­gories for olive oil: olive oil, vir­gin olive oil and olive-pomace oil. The NAOOA pro­poses elim­i­nat­ing one of the olive oil grades to pre­vent con­fu­sion and mis­lead­ing label­ing prac­tices.

We believe it is con­fus­ing to have a grade of olive oil called olive oil, i.e. olive oil grade olive oil,” Pro­faci said. Indeed, because it was a defined grade, man­u­fac­tur­ers did not need to dis­close the ingre­di­ents, i.e., refined and vir­gin olive oils, and this is impor­tant because of the dif­fer­ences in the health ben­e­fits of the two grades.”

Instead, the NAOOA pro­poses estab­lish­ing two cat­e­gories: olive oil, which is mechan­i­cally extracted, and pomace-olive oil, which is extracted by sol­vents.

Within the olive oil cat­e­gory, the NAOOA pro­poses only four grades: extra vir­gin, vir­gin, lam­pante and refined – elim­i­nat­ing the sep­a­rate olive oil’ and ordi­nary vir­gin’ grades in the Codex,” Pro­faci said.

Prod­ucts that are mix­tures of refined olive oil and vir­gin olive oil can still be called olive oil’ – because they are both olive oils – but we will require that the spe­cific grades (ingre­di­ents) be dis­closed, either in the name itself or in an ingre­di­ent state­ment,” he added.

Addi­tion­ally, the trade group has pro­posed set­ting more strict organolep­tic and chem­i­cal stan­dards for each of the afore­men­tioned sub­cat­e­gories than cur­rently exists in the Codex.

The new stan­dards would be much closer to the rules cur­rently employed by the Inter­na­tional Olive Coun­cil, which were last updated in 2019 (the Codex stan­dards were last updated in 2017).

Among the var­i­ous other tech­ni­cal changes the NAOOA has asked the FDA to con­sider are set­ting stricter rules around olive oil prove­nance and label­ing. The asso­ci­a­tion argues that this would pre­vent pro­duc­ers from mis­lead­ing con­sumers about the ori­gins of the olive oil and would pre­vent the use of ambigu­ous terms, includ­ing light” and pure,” on labels.

The NAOOA sub­mit­ted the peti­tion to the FDA over the Memo­r­ial Day week­end. Pro­faci said he expects the process to approve the pro­posal will move for­ward, but not very quickly.

We have been in touch with the FDA for nearly a year on this, and we have every expec­ta­tion that the process will move for­ward. But the tim­ing is not pos­si­ble to pre­dict,” Pro­faci said. Under ordi­nary cir­cum­stances, it is a long process that involves pub­li­ca­tion in the Fed­eral Reg­is­ter with an oppor­tu­nity for com­ment from the pub­lic, and pos­si­bly even a hear­ing.”

And of course, the pan­demic doesn’t make things any eas­ier,” he added.

But we’re hope­ful that the sig­nif­i­cant poten­tial health ben­e­fits that would be real­ized through the adop­tion of an olive oil SOI will help pro­pel the process for­ward.”


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