IOC Approves New Limits for Fatty Acids, Restoring 'Extra Virgin' Status to Southern Italian Varieties

The International Olive Oil Council approved new limits for fatty acids, allowing some varietals with unique chemical makeups to meet the parameters for the extra virgin grade.

An olive grove in Calabria, Italy.
Jul. 22, 2016
By Ylenia Granitto
An olive grove in Calabria, Italy.

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The International Olive Oil Council (IOC), dur­ing the ple­nary ses­sion in Tunisia, approved new para­me­ters for fatty acids allow­ing spe­cific vari­etals with unique chem­i­cal make­ups to meet the para­me­ters for the extra vir­gin grade.

With the new mea­sure, the lim­its of the hep­tade­canoic acid (C17:0) and hep­tade­cenoic acid (C17:1) will be respec­tively increased to 0.40 per­cent and 0.60 per­cent, while for the eicosenoic acid (C20:0) the limit is set at 0.50 per­cent.

This per­mits gen­uine extra vir­gin olive oils like Carolea and Coratina, that based on the old lim­its could not be clas­si­fied as oils extracted from olives, to have now a reg­u­lar posi­tion.- Lanfranco Conte, University of Udine

This new deci­sion, a result of a work car­ried out thanks to the syn­ergy between gov­ern­ment and national indus­try, fur­ther enhances the authen­tic­ity of the Italian olive oils and vari­etal rich­ness that con­tributes to their high qual­ity,” the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Forestry stated in a press release.

The request for a review of the lim­its has been the focus of nego­ti­a­tions in recent months between Italy, the EU Commission and the mem­ber coun­tries of the IOC. One of the pro­tag­o­nists of the reassess­ment has been Lanfranco Conte, a lead­ing expert in olive oil chem­istry, a pro­fes­sor of food chem­istry at the University of Udine, and a mem­ber of the IOC’s chem­istry expert group.

Olive Oil Times met pro­fes­sor Conte to talk about the mod­i­fi­ca­tion that he elab­o­rated with Maurizio Servili, a pro­fes­sor of food tech­nol­ogy at the University of Perugia, and Angelo Faberi, of the Central Inspectorate for the pro­tec­tion of qual­ity and fraud pre­ven­tion of food prod­uct (ICQRF), which restored the sta­tus of extra vir­gin olive oils pro­duced from two vari­eties in par­tic­u­lar: Carolea from Calabria, and Coratina from Apulia.

With the adop­tion of an over­all method in the frame­work of IOC and EU, it has become nec­es­sary to use two dec­i­mal places for the cal­cu­la­tion of fatty acids,” Conte explained. The sec­ond dec­i­mal place added was, slightly reck­lessly, the zero, which means that the per­cent­age 0.3 allowed the olive oils that reached 0.34 to be reg­u­lar, while rely­ing on 0.30 the olive oils that come to 0.31 were non-com­pli­ant.”

Conte added that, in pre­vi­ous years, cul­ti­vars from Calabria in par­tic­u­lar had val­ues of hep­tade­canoic acid and hep­tade­cenoic acid slightly above the legal limit high­light­ing the need to revise the stan­dards.

Assuming that the C17 is not present in large quan­ti­ties in extra vir­gin olive oil, and is prac­ti­cally absent in any other veg­etable oil, meant that the increase of C17 would not lead to any fraud and the group of experts could ask for the increase to the bench­mark. Meanwhile, C20 was slightly higher than the pre­vi­ous limit in Coratina oils and, since its increase had no con­se­quences either, they urged the IOC to raise the legal limit.

The need for the revi­sion was expressed last fall dur­ing the con­fer­ence of the Accademia Nazionale dell’Olio e dell’Olivo (National acad­emy of olive oil and olive tree) in Spoleto and, in December, Conte, Servili and Faberi pre­pared a hypoth­e­sis for the mod­i­fi­ca­tion of the lim­its that was sent to the rel­e­vant insti­tu­tions, namely the Ministry of Agriculture, the IOC and EU Commission.

During the meet­ing of the IOC chemists held in April, the mod­i­fi­ca­tion was accepted by the mem­ber coun­tries and the new lim­its will be put in place for the EU at large.

Within the IOC a spe­cial­ized group has been formed to work with olive oils whose com­po­si­tions do not per­fectly meet the stan­dards, and that usu­ally come from defined areas.

For instance, the delta-7-stig­mas­tenol, which can also reveal the pres­ence of sun­flower and saf­flower oil, con­cerns pro­duc­tion from the area of east­ern Aegean Islands, Palestine and Syria, while an excess of campes­terol, which grows if you add other veg­etable oils, mainly con­cerns Southern Hemisphere oils from Argentina and Australia.

In the case of the fatty acids we are talk­ing about, there is no pos­si­bil­ity that the expan­sion of lim­its would facil­i­tate frauds, and this vari­a­tion per­mits gen­uine extra vir­gin olive oils like Carolea and Coratina, that para­dox­i­cally based on the old lim­its could not be clas­si­fied as oils extracted from olives, to have now a reg­u­lar posi­tion,” Conte con­cluded.

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