`Greek Policy on Olive Oil Labeling in Disarray - Olive Oil Times

Greek Policy on Olive Oil Labeling in Disarray

Mar. 13, 2014
Athan Gadanidis

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Recently I reported on the debate in Greece over the imple­men­ta­tion of EU label­ing reg­u­la­tion 432/2012, which allows the fol­low­ing health claim on EVOO labels: Olive oil polyphe­nols con­tribute to the pro­tec­tion of blood lipids from oxida­tive stress.” The claim may be used only for olive oil which con­tains at least 5 mg of hydrox­y­ty­rosol and its deriv­a­tives (e.g. oleu­ropein com­plex and tyrosol) per 20 gm of EVOO.
See Also: Greece Flip-Flops on EVOO Labeling
This deci­sion directly con­tra­dicted the neg­a­tive state­ment made by Minister of Rural Development and Food, Athanasios Tsaftaris, in response to a ques­tion by MP George Kasapidis and other mem­bers of the Greek Parliament last May 2013 who declared: Oleocanthal and olea­cein can­not be used to make any health claims because they are not included in the EU Regulation 432/2012.” This rejec­tion out­raged the olive grow­ers at the time whose EVOO tested very high for both com­pounds.

In December 2013, Aspasia Samona of EFET (Greek National Food Safety Agency) con­tra­dicted Tsaftaris’ state­ment. Indeed oleo­can­thal and olea­cein, being deriv­a­tives of hydrox­y­ty­rosol and tyrosol, can be used as the basis for sub­stan­ti­at­ing the health claim allowed by EU Regulation 432/2012.”

In February 2014 and after receiv­ing the offi­cial response by EFET, Kasapidis asked Tsaftaris to cor­rect his state­ment on this issue and allow the EU health claim for EVOO to be imple­mented.

Athanasios Tsaftaris

In a recent phone inter­view, I was informed by a source at the Ministry of Rural Development and Food that it was a mis­un­der­stand­ing and that Mr. Tsaftaris was not asked about oleo­can­thal and olea­cein in regards to the EU reg­u­la­tion 432/2012.” And yet Mr. Tsaftaris’ response ref­er­enced the EU reg­u­la­tion on label­ing and made it clear that oleo­can­thal and olea­cein found in EVOO are not included in the EU reg­u­la­tion 432/2012 on label­ing. Greeks did invent ratio­nal thought but we also invented sophistry or its mod­ern day equiv­a­lent called: spin.” I assumed this was a clever way of revers­ing their ini­tial neg­a­tive deci­sion.

To my sur­prise I then received another let­ter from EFET which with­drew their pre­vi­ous offi­cial sci­en­tific opin­ion. In regards of my pre­vi­ous let­ter con­firm­ing that indeed oleo­can­thal and olea­cein being deriv­a­tives of hydrox­y­ty­rosol and tyrosol can be used as the basis for sub­stan­ti­at­ing the health claim EU 432/2012, and after a recent con­tact with the EU we will have to wait for them to make the final deci­sion. We will let you know when we receive an answer.”

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This reporter had already sub­mit­ted a ques­tion on this very issue to the EU seek­ing clar­i­fi­ca­tion fol­low­ing the response from Tsaftaris back in May, 2013. Last July I received an email inform­ing me that since every­one was on sum­mer vaca­tion that it may take longer than usual to answer. Seven months later I am still wait­ing for their response.

The truth of the mat­ter is that if the EU bureau­cracy is asked what time it is, they will form a com­mit­tee and let you know in a year what time it was six months ago. It is now obvi­ous the flip-flop­ping on this issue in Greece stems from pol­i­tics and not from sci­ence. The ques­tion is: Why?

The sci­ence is sim­ple. The pol­i­tics are murky.

Scientific fact is that hydrox­y­ty­rosol is not found in suf­fi­cient quan­tity to ever com­ply with the required 5mg per 20gm of EVOO. That is why the esteemed EFSA sci­en­tific panel included exam­ples of its deriv­a­tive forms, such as oleu­ropein com­plex, which is a soicori­doid, and tyrosol, which is a phe­nol. By giv­ing exam­ples of these two cat­e­gories (soicori­doids and phe­nols) of polyphe­nols in the word­ing of the reg­u­la­tion they sought to include their deriv­a­tive forms as well.

The rea­son is that if you add up all the hydrox­y­ty­rosol, oleu­ropein com­plex and tyrosol it will still not be suf­fi­cient to qual­ify with this health claim reg­u­la­tion. This is why the health claim is not worded in a spe­cific man­ner such as: Hydroxytyrosol, Oleuropein com­plex and tyrosol found in EVOO con­tribute to the pro­tec­tion of blood lipids from oxida­tive stress.”

To give you an exam­ple of how ludi­crous this con­tro­versy has become in Greece, it would be like ask­ing the EU for clar­i­fi­ca­tion on whether let­tuce is a veg­etable because they did not men­tion let­tuce specif­i­cally when they stated eat­ing veg­eta­bles is good for your health.

The EFSA deci­sion which formed the basis of the label­ing health claim was suc­cinct: On the basis of the data pre­sented, the Panel con­cludes that a cause and effect rela­tion­ship has been estab­lished between the con­sump­tion of olive oil polyphe­nols (stan­dard­ized by the con­tent of hydrox­y­ty­rosol and its deriv­a­tives) and pro­tec­tion of LDL par­ti­cles from oxida­tive dam­age.”

You either believe the panel of sci­en­tists that wrote this deci­sion are mis­in­formed and should return all their PhDs because they wrote some­thing that can never be imple­mented, or you see it exactly as a sci­en­tist would see it. Scientists like Aspasia Samona from EFET who are famil­iar with EVOO chem­istry under­stand this includes two of the main polyphe­nols — oleo­can­thal and olea­cein.

EFET is the national food safety agency and is directly under the the Ministry of Rural Development and Food, headed by Minister Tsaftaris. Perhaps this explains why she amended her offi­cial opin­ion after the recent fol­low up ques­tion was tabled in the Greek Parliament.

Tsaftaris has not shown up in the Greek par­lia­ment to offi­cially respond to this lat­est request for clar­i­fi­ca­tion and we are eagerly await­ing his appear­ance and his offi­cial response. This reporter has already received the lat­est response from EFET and, bar­ring any last minute change of heart by EFET or Mr. Tsaftaris, it is expected to assert the EU will have final say on the mat­ter.

Since I have not heard back from Dr. Samona on why she changed her opin­ion, I can only sur­mise that Minister Tsaftaris and EFET are actively seek­ing to delay the imple­men­ta­tion of the EU label­ing reg­u­la­tion for Greek EVOO.

There are some major play­ers that wish to keep things as they are. Major Greek, Italian and Spanish EVOO mer­chants’ inter­ests are to keep the sta­tus quo of buy­ing and sell­ing the supe­rior Greek EVOO at rock bot­tom prices in bulk and mix­ing it with their own. Others work hard to keep the focus on mar­ket­ing Greek olive oil in sexy bot­tles and fancy let­ter­ing and not by the qual­ity of its con­tents. We have many exam­ples of olive grow­ers get­ting becom­ing con­vinced, after the many sem­i­nars that have pro­lif­er­ated in the last two years in Greece, that the way to suc­cess is by putting their EVOO in sexy bot­tles with fancy logos and let­ter­ing. A few have suc­ceeded but most are still deeper in debt.

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