The Rural Payments Agency (RPA) has commenced with a trial olive oil inspection at the largest bottler in the UK, as part of preparations for enforcing new EU-wide regulations.

A team from the Agency’s Horticultural Marketing Inspectorate (HMI) carried out the trial at UK Edible Oils Limited. The trial was in anticipation of widespread quality assessments, due to take place across the UK later in the year.

The RPA’s role in enforcing the regulations – which came into force at the start of 2014 – has been instated to help protect and reassure customers that the products they buy are authentic and labeled correctly. Regular checks on bottlers and across the retail sector will include chemical sampling and laboratory taste analysis. Product labels will also be scrutinized.

John Marsden, Regional Horticultural Marketing Inspector and RPA Olive Oil Sampling Manager, said: “This is a new area of work for us. To be able to hold a trial inspection in a state-of-the-art plant like this was invaluable.

“Obviously the premises we will visit will vary widely from large state-of-the-art bottling plants like this one to smaller businesses and retail premises.”

Despite vast differences in size and modernity of the UK’s olive oil bottling plants, there will, claims the RPA, be little variation in the way tests are carried out. Procedures and policies, the RPA says, have been designed to ensure a consistent and transparent approach to the enforcement of the new regulations.

A total of 14 workers have been trained to carry out olive oil testing across Great Britain and Northern Ireland, although inspections in the latter will be carried out by DARD (Department of Agriculture and Rural Development for Northern Ireland).

According to Marsden, the reaction from the industry has been positive overall, with oil manufacturers supportive of the new inspection rules. The RPA hopes to eventually banish below-par and incorrectly described oils, ensuring “the actions of a minority” no longer sully the industry’s reputation.

The minimum requirement for testing, as established by the Commission Regulation, is one conformity check per thousand tonnes of olive oil marketed in the Member State each year. In the UK then, this currently equates to a total of 59 checks annually.

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