Before the United States House of Representatives defeated the Farm Bill Wednesday, congressional members debated, among other things, an amendment to strike a provision from the bill that would impose new restrictions on imported olive oils.

In the end, the amendment to remove the olive oil provision from the bill passed overwhelmingly, hours before the Farm Bill itself was struck down in a partisan vote that drew sharp criticism.

The controversial provision stated that, if a U.S. marketing order were to be adopted for domestic olive oil producers, imported olive oils would need to meet the same standards set forth in the marketing order — and they’d need to take various steps to prove it.

On the same day the Yankees met the Dodgers in Los Angeles for a double header (which they split 1-1) representatives from New York faced off on the House floor with their colleagues from California over olive oil.

Notwithstanding studies showing how little average Americans know about olive oil standards and quality, at least one member of Congress had the confidence Wednesday to declare the state of olive oil excellence across his district.

Michael G. Grimm, a Republican representing Brooklyn and Staten Island, announced to the chamber, “my constituents consume more Greek and Italian olive oil than you could ever imagine, and it’s not rancid.”

Calling the olive oil provision “a multi-million-dollar earmark,” Grimm said distributors, restaurants and consumers in Southern New York “know good oil, and they haven’t had a problem.” Grimm cited a Congressional Budget Office estimate that the import restrictions would cost businesses “tens of millions of dollars.”

“The producers here are the ones with the problems,” Grimm said, referring to producers in California, Georgia and Texas who have been calling for a leveling of the field with importers of subsidized European oils that dominate supermarket shelves and often fail to meet quality standards.

While the New York congressman showed remarkable confidence in his constituents’ knowledge of olive oil, a federal judge on the other side of the East River last month gave consumers little chance of knowing much at all.

In a decision to reject an injunction against an olive oil importer who knowingly sold refined olive pomace oil as “pure,” the US Court of the Southern District of New York in NAOOA v. Kangadis Food Inc. found “no extrinsic evidence that the perceptions of ordinary consumers align with these various labeling standards.” In other words, most consumers don’t know one grade from another, let alone whether an olive oil is good or not.


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