New World producers have again failed in a bid to raise the limit for campesterol in olive oil, which they say acts as a trade barrier and discriminates against their authentic virgin olive oils.

Australia, with support from countries including the United States and Argentina, sought support to start work on the move at the Codex Committee on Fats and Oils (CCFO) meeting held in Malaysia February 25 to March 1.

They say the limit should be raised from 4 to 4.8 percent so as not to unfairly exclude oils that exceed it for seasonal, varietal or geoclimatic reasons.

But according to the Codex Alimentarius Commission’s report on the meeting, there was neither agreement to start work on the issue nor to establish an electronic working group as a prelude. Some delegations had said the current limit was needed to detect adulteration and they advocated waiting for the results of a three-year International Olive Council (IOC) survey of campesterol levels, the report said.

IOC report still awaited

At the previous CCFO meeting, in 2011, the IOC delegation had argued that it had studies underway and it would have been premature for the Codex to act. “The objective of deferring discussions on…campesterol until 2013 was achieved,” IOC executive director Jean-Louis Barjol said in his report on that meeting.

But the IOC did not attend the latest meeting, citing a previously reported budget problem.

Survey said to support case for change

The delegation from IOC member country Argentina, however, told the CCFO that last October the IOC’s chemical expert panel had recognized in a report on its survey “that genuine olive oils could present higher campesterol levels than currently specified in the international standard.”

“While it had been expected that the last meeting of the IOC Council take a positive decision on amending the acceptable campesterol levels, other issues led to a lack of quorum at the closing session leaving the adoption of all decisions pending. “For these reasons, the (Argentinian) delegation hoped that the IOC Council would shortly adopt a favorable decision in this regard before Codex would begin its work,” the Codex report said.

Asked by Olive Oil Times this week when its data would be released, the IOC secretariat said that the “conclusions of the study of the composition of virgin olive oil with anomalous parameters” was awaiting adoption by the 100th session of the IOC Council. Once the session had been concluded and the report adopted, it would be sent to Codex as agreed, it said.

Australia queries future of Codex

Dr. Rodney Mailer, research fellow and adjunct professor at Australian Oils Research, attended the CCFO and told Olive Oil Times that Australia, the U.S. and Argentina had come to the meeting “armed with over 1,600 results from several countries proving without doubt that campesterol in many cultivars is regularly higher than the Codex standard and therefore we were being discriminated against in terms of trade.”

Mailer estimated that more than half of the countries present voted to allow “more work to help produce more realistic standards for campesterol” but he accused the European Union members of voting “in a way that is clearly beneficial to them with little consideration for science or freedom of trade.”

He said he was very disappointed that the committee chairperson concluded there was insufficient support for new work, an outcome that was “unrepresentative of the desire to have this issue discussed and realistic outcomes obtained.”

Though international standards are important for ease of trade and to work against fraud and poor practice, “this latest outcome from Codex further adds to many people’s feelings that Codex has limited usefulness,” he said.

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