The elec­tion results are in for the new Olive Oil Commission of California’s inau­gural board of direc­tors. Commission direc­tors will have the poten­tial to influ­ence the future of olive oil in the state as the group to rec­om­mend label­ing and grad­ing stan­dards to the California Secretary of Food and Agriculture. The stan­dards they pro­pose will likely affect not only California and U.S. grow­ers, but could ulti­mately impact importers as well.

The Olive Oil Commission of California was estab­lished as a result Senate Bill 250, intro­duced by Lois Wolk (D‑Davis). The Commission’s goal is to improve the state’s com­pet­i­tive­ness in the global olive oil indus­try, and its pri­mary strat­egy to reach that goal will be to set mean­ing­ful and manda­tory olive oil stan­dards.

The California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) recently announced the elected board mem­bers who were cho­sen by their indus­try peers. The new board con­sists of ten mem­bers, includ­ing two pro­duc­ers and one han­dler from each of the three pri­mary olive oil pro­duc­ing dis­tricts in California and a pub­lic mem­ber (not yet selected). Each rep­re­sen­ta­tive has an alter­nate mem­ber as well. The mem­bers and their affil­i­a­tions are as fol­lows:

Producers

Adam Englehardt, Kbar Farming, (Alternate: Gregg Kelley, California Olive Ranch)
Larry Maben, Maben Family LLC, (Alternate: Rich Mathews, Sadeg Ranch Organic Olives)
John Williams, Cal Ag Properties LLC, (Alternate: John Post)
Dick Neilsen, McEvoy of Marin LLC, (Alternate: Karl Giguiere, JK Vineyards)
Jeff Colombini, Lodi Farming, (Alternate: Pat Ricchiuti, P‑R Farms, Inc.)
Richard Marchini, Marchini Ag, (Alternate: Josh Barton, Barton Ranch)

Handlers

Jim Lipman, California Olive Ranch, (Alternate: Brendon Flynn, Pacific Sun Gourmet)
Jim Etters, Seka Hills Olive Mill, (Alternate: vacant)
Brady Whitlow, Corto Olive LP, (Alternate: Vincent Ricchiuti, ENZO Olive Oil Company)

Public

(Vacant)

In addi­tion to the elec­tion of the Commission board, the CDFA appointed a seven-mem­ber advi­sory group who will rep­re­sent the inter­ests of smaller pro­duc­ers (less than 5,000 gal­lons per year).

Commission board mem­bers have taken active lead­er­ship roles in other state efforts to adopt olive oil stan­dards. Some mem­bers were signed sup­port­ers of Senate Bill 250 and oth­ers are board mem­bers of the California Olive Oil Council and the American Olive Oil Producers Association (AOOPA).

Kimberly Houlding, Executive Director of AOOPA, said her orga­ni­za­tion does not have an offi­cial stance on a par­tic­u­lar stan­dard it hopes the Commission will adopt, but she is con­fi­dent that the stan­dards devel­oped will give con­sumers con­fi­dence that the bot­tle of extra vir­gin olive oil they pur­chase is authen­tic and high qual­ity. Houlding noted that the sci­ence of oils con­tin­ues to evolve and new stan­dards may be able to iden­tify bio­chem­i­cal mark­ers that work for U.S. olive oils.

Commission board mem­ber John Williams wants California olive oil brands to be known as top qual­ity oils. He antic­i­pates that the Commission will con­sider a vari­ety of exist­ing stan­dards but believes that the inter­na­tional stan­dard is lower than what the Commission will want to rec­om­mend. Williams named the Australian Standard for Olive and Olive-Pomace Oils as a good basis for label­ing and grad­ing bench­marks. He said that what­ever stan­dards are ulti­mately pro­posed will ensure the oil is high qual­ity but will still be stan­dards that grow­ers can meet. Williams also believes that a mar­ket­ing order would be use­ful means to “force importers to be hon­est” about what is in their bot­tles.

Any rec­om­men­da­tions on stan­dards made by the Commission to the Secretary of Food and Agriculture would be sub­ject to pub­lic hear­ing. The first meet­ing of the Commission board will be May 8 in Sacramento, California.


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