The decision by European Commissioner of Agriculture Dacian Cioloş to withdraw the ban on refillable olive oil cruets in restaurants did not put the genie back in the bottle.

The Commissioner announced that he will meet with interested parties over the issues and acknowledged that there was a sharp contrast in views by producing countries and the consumers in the north, as he explained.

However, Cioloş seems to have surprised many if not everyone by the move.

The COPA-COREGA organization representing European farmers from 36 countries posted a Twitter message yesterday, about the Commissioner’s forthcoming announcement over the issue and expressing support for Ciolos (which has since been removed from the Twitter feed).

However, after the announcement, COPA-COREGA posted another update saying:

In yet another update, COPA-COGEGA blamed the Commissioner’s u-turn on “political pressure.”

The situation in Greece

Meanwhile, the portrayal by the Commissioner of the division among olive oil producers and consuming countries does not perfectly describe the situation in Greece, which has had some experience with the matter.

The Greek Federation of Restaurants and Similar Professions (POESE) told Olive Oil Times that two years ago they signed an agreement to run a pilot program in 20 restaurants in Greece, to use only one-use bottles on their tables.

More Greek restaurants adopted the practice voluntarily, offering labeled olive oil products of exclusive quality as a gesture to visitors and differentiate their products from competitive countries.

However, Giorgos Kourassis, General Secretary of POESE said, his organization recognized that it is a costly policy which finally tumbles over the price tag. “Greek restaurants, even in their refillable bottles and jars, offer a high-quality olive oil to their guests.”

“In oil-producing Greece we have no incidents of adulteration,” and subsequently no immediate need for the regulation amendment.

Reactions in Italy

First reactions in Italy enlighten the case and especially the background that led to the proposal for the regulation amendments in the first place.

Coldiretti (the National Confederation of Farmers), the largest association representing Italian agriculture, strongly condemned the change of course by the European Commission on banning unlabeled olive oil bottles and cruets in restaurants.

It said the move favored fraud and imports of cheap oil — at a time when domestic demand shows a decline of eight percent.

However, Coldiretti said domestic regulations on “the quality and transparency of olive oil bottles of virgin olive oil,” is still in effect for local businesses as it has been since last February.

“We intend to defend it from lobby pressures,” said the president of Coldiretti, Sergio Marini.

“We must admit that European lobbyists won against a standard which was supported by as many as fifteen countries. Among them, major producers such as Italy and Spain, which lost against countries such as Germany, the Netherlands, and UK, where you can’t grow a single olive tree,” he added.

According to Coldiretti, the national law established a “revolution on the tables” for the most-favored dressing of Italians, and established provisions including the 18-month use-by date printed on the label, indications of origin and a way to control imports that do not meet the regulated specifications of olive oil.

“Italy is the second largest producer of olive oil with about 250 million olive trees and a production of over half a million tons. The industry employs people in 50 million work-days which translates to €2 billion,” said Coldiretti.

“For us, it is a cultural as well as legal battle. The withdrawn regulation by the Commission would have enabled us to improve the fight against fraud in the restaurants’ market where consumers have the right to know what type of oil is used,” said the Italian Minister of Agriculture, Food and Forestry, Nunzia De Jerome.

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