Isabel García Tejerina

A special series of random checks will target Spain’s olive oil sector between now and May, the Spanish government said yesterday.

Designed to verify olive oil quality and product traceability, the “extraordinary” campaign will cover olive oil mills, bottling companies, refineries and distribution centers , said Isabel García Tejerina, General Secretary for Agriculture and Food in the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Environment.

Speaking in Madrid at a conference on Spanish olive oil, García Tejerina said the quality of its olive oil and its production expertise had made Spain a world leader. It was now the number one olive oil exporter, accounting for 51 per cent of global exports in terms of volume, followed distantly by Italy with 22.4 percent and Greece with 6.3 per cent.

But work was needed to improve its export prices and quality was the pillar on which the sector’s future would be built, she said.

Panel test “improvements”

According to EFE, García Tejerina said the government was studying methods and instruments that could be used to “improve” the olive oil panel test. Among the methods are a “chemical sensor” that could complement or substitute for the panel test “if appropriate,” and magnetic resonance and genetic testing.

Comparisons were already being made between results from public sector and private panel tests and members of the latter had been incorporated into the Ministry’s panels, she said.

Limits to bottlers’ responsibility for quality levels

García Tejerina also spoke of setting “limits of responsibility” for packagers in regards to quality. This would be be over the medium term and involve change to a standard applying to vegetable oils, she said.

U.S. marketing order under vigilance

Regarding the proposed United States olive oil marketing order – which some in Spain’s olive oil sector fear would act as a trade barrier – García Tejerina said the Spanish government was monitoring the progress and awaiting an opportunity to set out its case and to try to influence the U.S. to instead adhere to the recommendations of the International Olive Council.

Time of reckoning in Spain

Olive Oil Times was told García Tejerina was unavailable for further information today. Her announcement came in the wake of considerable turmoil in the Spanish olive oil sector.

After three years of record output – and a record of 690,800 tons in carryover stocks – it is now on the verge of a dismal harvest of just over 625,000 tons at the same time as the country is in financial crisis and the European Union seeks to tighten its farm subsidies.

Last month, a Spanish consumer group said its tests found that nearly one in three olive oils sampled were mislabeled, renewing debate on issues including quality control, the reliability of panel tests, and who should be held responsible if extra virgin olive oil deteriorates post-bottling.

Meanwhile, the U.S. marketing order is seen -rightly or wrongly – as a looming threat in what is Spain’s most crucial export market.

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