The Executive of Olives New Zealand (ONZ), the industry body representing the interests of olive growers, has recently announced that it will no longer run the assessment for its OliveMark certification programme in New Zealand.
Instead New Zealand olive oils seeking to be certified as extra virgin will be sent to Australia.
In 2004, Olives New Zealand introduced the OliveMark — the sign of a rigorous certification programme for New Zealand produced extra virgin olive oil.
Olive oils that meet the programme’s strict standards are certified and awarded the OliveMark seal that can be displayed on producers’ bottles. The seal is a guarantee that the oil is 100 percent New Zealand extra virgin olive oil.
The certification standards were based on those set by the International Olive Council (IOC).
Each oil was required to undergo independent chemical analysis testing and evaluation by a highly trained sensory tasting panel that assessed the oil under standard, blind conditions at the Institute of Plant and Food Research in Auckland.
To ensure credibility and integrity, in 2004 the sensory panel applied for and received IOC recognition.
By passing the external audit exams sent from the IOC each year since then, the panel retained its IOC recognition and for a short time was the only native English speaking, IOC recognised panel in the world.
The decision to move the assessment to Australia will take effect for the 2012 season has caused the immediate demise of the IOC – recognised ONZ sensory tasting panel.
This will result in the loss of badly needed expertise to the New Zealand olive industry, as a group of highly trained sensory panellists will not be able to maintain their skills through evaluating well in excess of 100 oils during the annual certification period, as well as being internationally audited.
The loss of the sensory panel is a major setback for the New Zealand olive industry, as it will no longer be one of the elite countries in the olive oil world with a sensory panel holding the prestigious International Olive Council recognition.