`Greek Policy on Olive Oil Labeling in Disarray

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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 more: 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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