`Five Years Later, UC Davis Report Still Sends Shockwaves - Olive Oil Times

Five Years Later, UC Davis Report Still Sends Shockwaves

Jul. 14, 2015
Olive Oil Times Staff

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Five years ago today, the University of California at Davis Olive Center released its report on a study of the qual­ity of olive oils in some of the region’s super­mar­kets. The bomb­shell report would prove to be a game-changer, cited count­less times to illus­trate the exploits of unscrupu­lous pro­duc­ers.

See Also:Court Rejects Relevance of Davis Study in Dismissing Case Against Deoleo

The study, which was funded in part by California pro­duc­ers, was small in scale but it packed a big punch: 69 per­cent of imported olive oils labeled as extra vir­gin,” the report pro­claimed, failed the IOC sen­sory stan­dard.” In other words, most imported extra vir­gin olive oils were not extra vir­gin at all.

That sim­ple state­ment would prove to be irre­sistible to the main­stream press and the Davis report has been quoted, and mis­quoted, ever since.

The doc­u­ment became mate­r­ial evi­dence in class action law­suits and trade com­mis­sion hear­ings. It would be the ral­ly­ing cry for an effort to estab­lish a mar­ket­ing order, a bid to impose import con­trols in the fed­eral farm bill, the estab­lish­ment of a California olive oil com­mis­sion and, most recently, the adop­tion of new qual­ity stan­dards in California.

It seemed news­wor­thy at the time,” said Dan Flynn the exec­u­tive direc­tor of the UC Davis Olive Center, but I did­n’t really have any sense of how big it would become and that it would rever­ber­ate for as long as it has.” Overwhelmed by the response to the report, Flynn heard over one thou­sand news out­lets had picked up the story within days of its release. It was my intro­duc­tion to the mod­ern era and how news spreads,” said Flynn.


Despite such a response, the study and its meth­ods were not with­out crit­i­cism, but Flynn unapolo­get­i­cally stands behind the report. We were shin­ing a light on a prob­lem that was out there,” he said. After five years and all that has hap­pened, I feel good about what we did.”

A Google search reveals just how often the Olive Center’s report has been cited over the years, but no cita­tion was as high-pro­file, and inac­cu­rate, as one in an infa­mous New York Times info­graphic that pro­claimed 69 per­cent of all imported olive oils to be doc­tored.” While the Times even­tu­ally cor­rected the arti­cle, the dam­age had been done and more accu­sa­tions flew back and forth across the Atlantic.

Olive oil pro­duc­ers every­where were jus­ti­fi­ably shocked by how effec­tive the Davis report could be in rais­ing sus­pi­cion of olive oil in all its forms. Consumer mag­a­zines and advo­cacy groups around the world began con­duct­ing their own often pseudo-sci­en­tific qual­ity tests that impli­cated cer­tain oils, but also served to cast a crooked pall over the olive oil busi­ness and every­one in it.

Misinformation grew ram­pant and every­one wanted to know if the olive oil in their kitchen was good or not. Capitalizing on the con­fu­sion, the pop­u­lar tele­vi­sion advice guru Dr. Oz told his 3 mil­lion view­ers that, to check if oil was extra vir­gin, we sim­ply had to put it in the refrig­er­a­tor to see if it gelled — a method Oz said served him well but, as it turned out, had no basis in fact.

Since the Davis report, pro­duc­ers on both sides of the ensu­ing debate have inten­si­fied efforts to improve the qual­ity of their prod­ucts and dis­tin­guish brands through des­ig­na­tions of ori­gin, com­pe­ti­tion awards and qual­ity seals. Slowly, peo­ple have returned to talk­ing about the health ben­e­fits of olive oil again, and how it ele­vates the tastes of dishes.

Last month, how­ever, the group rep­re­sent­ing many of the olive oil importers who were the tar­gets of the 2010 study shot back with a report of their own that, they said, revealed the inad­e­quacy of the new California stan­dards. Critics call that report deeply flawed, and the debate lives on.


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