The Australian Olive Association (AOA) is taking some heat for a new $300,000 ad campaign claiming that Australian oil is “fresher, tastier and better for you” than most imported oils.

The AOA’s #buyaussieoliveoil campaign launched last week and features dietitian Joanna McMillan encouraging consumers to choose domestic olive oil products over imported ones.

The Australian Olive Oil Association (AOOA), comprised mostly of importers and some local growers, has responded by lodging a complaint with the Australian Competition and Consumer Association (ACCC) over the campaign, which they say contains misleading and false information.

“We strongly object to the self-interested and untruthful campaigning by the AOA who are putting consumer choice at risk by using scare tactics and misleading information in an attempt to influence retailers and the government into adopting a standard for olive oil that was rejected by the International Olive Council,” the AOOA said.

The AOOA took particular issue with the claim that Australian olive oil is “healthier,” saying that country or origin is not necessarily a determinant of health benefits. The claim that Australian oil is “fresher” was also disputed, with the AOOA noting that olives are only harvested once a year in each hemisphere, which means the degree of freshness of a local product would depend on the season.

“(The AOA) have been involved in active promotion against imported olive oils for some time now. But we do take issue when incorrect information is passed on to consumers because it is not in their best interests,” said AOOA president David Valmorbida.

“There are two sides to the story and ideally an industry wouldn’t have two sides, it should be promoting and collaborating,” he added.

The AOA cites data from tests conducted between September, 2011 and August, 2013 of 106 imported oils representing 40 different brands. The tests concluded that 93 percent of the brands failed to meet the Australian Standard AS 5264-2011, with at least one olive oil product in their brand range, according to the AOA.

“For years now the Australian Olive Association has been providing raw data to the ACCC. The AOA would be pleased to meet with the ACCC to take them through the evidence that unequivocally supports these claims. A large portion of this information has been shared with the ACCC over recent years anyway,” Lisa Rowntree, CEO of the Australian Olive Association, told Olive Oil Times.

Roundtree pointed out that 47 percent of the olive oil imported into Australia is refined using processes that remove the healthy antioxidants and alter flavor. She said this refined olive oil is, by grade definition, less healthy and less tasty than Australian olive oil, of which over 90 percent is extra virgin, a grade indicating its high quality and healthy attributes.

“I believe that the only ones putting consumer choice at risk are the importers who refuse to comply with the Australian Standards and who continue to sell refined oil in Australia as pure, light and extra-light instead of labeling it correctly as refined olive oil,” Rowntree said.

“Our #buyaussieoliveoil campaign is not about keeping the importers out, as we recognize that we fall a long way short at the moment of replacing our imports — our number one key concern is ‘truth in labeling,’” she added.

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