Clara Aguilera and Dacian Cioloş

Spain is pushing for European Commission aid to store extra virgin olive oil until prices improves.

In September, EC Agriculture & Rural Development Commissioner Dacian Cioloş agreed to subsidise the storage of virgin olive oil for six months. Since then the average producer price for EVOO has also tumbled and for five weeks has been under the relevant trigger level of 1.77 €/kg.

Spanish Ministry for Environment, Marine and Rural Affairs (MARM) figures for the first week of January put the EVOO price at 1.67 €/kg.

Cioloş is due to meet Spain’s new Minister for Agriculture, Food and Environmental Affairs, Miguel Arias Cañete, in Spain on February 2 but Andalusia’s Minister for Agriculture and Fishing, Clara Aguilera, says the private storage aid is urgent and can’t wait till then.

As another measure to try to address factors behind the low prices, Aguilera announced the creation of a working group to review regulations relating to the quality of olive oil, and she said she would continue looking for ways to spur more integration and fusion in the highly fragmented production sector.

Aguilera also said that as part of the current reform of the EC’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), the olive oil sector should be exempted from competition law, in a similar way as is being planned for producers in the dairy sector.

The olive harvest is proceeding faster than usual this year, thanks largely to the lack of rain, and is now nearly complete in Jaén. The need to process the olives as soon as possible after they are picked is causing problems for some olive mills, however, which are struggling to cope with the concentrated load.

Meanwhile, Catalonia’s olive oil harvest is set to finish with production down at least 50 percent on last year due to drought and then heavy rains in late October which tossed much of the fruit to the ground.

Also in Spain, there is hot debate over a proposal for changes in the role of tasting panels in virgin and extra virgin olive oil quality testing. Some argue that given producers are held responsible for ensuring that the oil they bottle is true to its label – despite EVOO being a product that deteriorates over time – only organoleptic tests done at the time of bottling should be held as binding.

But among the dissenters is the group representing protected denominations of origin in Andalusia, which says that if panel tests are not maintained as a valid tool of quality control even after the bottles are on the shelf, “this will legalize the irregular situation in which many oils labeled as extra virgin or virgin and sold at low prices would struggle to maintain that category if subjected to a panel test.”

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