For more than a half century, the Madrid, Spain-based International Olive Council (IOC) has had the first and last word on sensory and chemical evaluation, standards and the facilitation of trade for olive oil around the world. The entirety of the European Union and several other olive oil producing countries are members of the IOC. The U.S. is not one of them.
As reported by Olive Oil Times last August, and as a matter of policy, the United States does not engage in partnerships of this nature. Dan Flynn of the UC Davis Olive Center said, “In Washington, the message keeps coming back that the U.S. does not want to cede any of its jurisdiction over standard-setting to a group of foreign nations.” But there’s more to the story than a political turf war. Voting within the organization is weighted toward countries with the highest production, leaving those with the highest consumption, like the U.S., out in the cold.
Recent reports of rampant fraud in the industry, as detailed earlier this month in a bombshell segment on ’60 Minutes,’ and questionable standards for the chemical and sensory evaluation of extra virgin olive oil have only served to strengthen the resolve of American producers to create and enforce standards of their own.
Addressing attendees of the New York International Olive Oil Competition in 2014, California Olive Ranch (COR) CEO Gregg Kelley said, “As far as the International Olive Council goes, we don’t spend a whole lot of time concerned about its activities. Of course, we keep up with them and with what’s going on there, but (the U.S.) is not a member. There are challenges they will have to confront and it’s up to them to decide if they’re going to be supportive of a progressive industry constantly seeking to provide the best experience to the consumer.”
Yesterday, in an article on Bloomberg.com, Peter Robison and Vernon Silver posed the question, “Is American Olive Oil About to Have Its Moment?” The article drew parallels between the pivotal moment in the history of the wine trade when, in 1975, New World producers were finally taken seriously after a California vintage was judged superior to its European counterparts.
So, as American-made EVOO continues to shine at global competitions and via tasting panels worldwide, and as the growing industry continues to build on the technical advancements in production led by companies like COR, Corto Olive and Cobram Estate, many are seeing a major shift toward higher quality and accountability.
“California Olive Ranch is trying to do with olives what California did with wine,” Kelley said to Bloomberg. And this month, the Bloomberg article reported, “New World producers are expected to announce the creation of a rival organization, the World Olive Oil Trade Group,” whose members are likely to include Australia, New Zealand, the U.S. and other New World producers such as Chile, Argentina, Uruguay and South Africa.
The organization could someday be yet another standard-bearer, one that represents the unique concerns of the fledgling olive oil sectors in New World countries and their progressive approaches to an old industry.