Spain’s olive oil watchdog conducted 941 inspections and took 420 olive oil samples from among the country’s 1,744 active olive oil mills during the 2011/12 season.

And in its latest annual report, the Olive Oil Agency (AAO) said its checks also included visits to more than 770 packaging plants and reviews of stock movement records at 22 out of 24 active olive oil refineries in Spain.

As a result, it recommended 17 fines totaling €52,100 — up from seven fines totaling €11,200 the previous season — for plants found to lack required stock movement records, that had ceased to send the agency mandatory monthly stock data, or had sent inaccurate information.

Of the 17 fines proposed, 12 corresponded to the province of Andalusia (four to olive oil mills and three to “virtual operators”), two to Castilla y León (both joint mills and bottlers), two to Catalonia (both table olive packers), and one to an olive oil mill and bottling plant in Extremadura.

Traceability lacking in 30 plants

The Madrid-based agency also found that 30 plants involved in the production or packaging of olive oil or table olives in Spain had no system whatsoever to provide traceability for their products, up from 21 in 2010-2011.

The AAO informed the relevant regional governments so they could take appropriate action. Of the 30 such reports sent, 10 went to Andalusia, 7 to Aragon, 5 to Catalonia, 5 to Extremadura, and 3 to Valencia.

Private storage aid

In the course of 2011 and 2012, and amid very low wholesale prices for olive oil, the European Union approved private storage aid for the sector over three different periods. It paid out a total of more than €36 million for the measure, which subsidizes the temporarily removal of stocks from the market in order to stabilize it.

But the agency said that during this period, “…this regulatory instrument had no effect whatsoever on prices, which only reacted in the fourth quarter amid the prospect of the next harvest being very small.”

Olive Oil Agency morphing into wider food control

In his preface to the report, Spain’s minister of Agriculture, Food and Environment Miguel Arias Cañete highlighted the high volumes not only of olive oil production in Spain in 2011/2012 – a record 1.6 million tons – but also of sales, particularly exports, and carryover stocks.

Cañete also said the report was likely to be agency’s last as the Olive Oil Agency because as part of new food chain laws in Spain it would expand and be renamed the Food Information and Inspection Agency, extending the successful model it had used to “ensure transparency in the olive oil market” to other sectors, starting with the dairy industry.

The agency reported that it cost €4.5 million to run in 2011-2012 and had 83 staff, down from €4.9 million and 86 in 2010-2011.

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