`Organic Olive Oil, EU Law and Proposition 37


Organic Olive Oil, EU Law and Proposition 37

Sep. 13, 2012
By Virginia Brown Keyder

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On July 1, 2012 it became manda­tory for cer­ti­fied organic pack­aged food pro­duced in the EU to bear the EU organic logo, while last week a study from Stan­ford Uni­ver­sity claimed that organic foods are no dif­fer­ent from other foods because their nutri­tional value is no greater.

This is the mir­ror image of the biotech industry’s claim (some might call it the dark side) that foods con­tain­ing genet­i­cally mod­i­fied organ­isms need no label­ing because they are nutri­tion­ally the same as non-gmo food. Cal­i­for­nia vot­ers will soon show who they believe by pass­ing or reject­ing Propo­si­tion 37.

If the bal­lot does­n’t pass con­sumers will suf­fer by being denied the power to choose whether they wish to eat genet­i­cally mod­i­fied food, and organic grow­ers will face the con­se­quences as the biotech com­pa­nies are given free­dom to fur­ther infil­trate the food sup­ply unde­tected. Even the most basic stan­dards of organic cer­ti­fi­ca­tion pro­hibit more than a trace of GMOs.

Given the ten­dency of plants to spread their genes, many organic grow­ers are jus­ti­fi­ably wor­ried about any expan­sion of GM food (recently Italy was finally forced to destroy a 30-year old stand of genet­i­cally mod­i­fied olive trees for just this rea­son). It bears men­tion that if Cal­i­for­nia does not adopt label­ing require­ments, it is unlikely that any state in the US, or the Fed­eral Gov­ern­ment, will do so either.

Given the prox­im­ity of elec­tions and the amount of money that has poured into Cal­i­for­nia from com­pa­nies like Mon­santo and Cargill (who is a major con­trib­u­tor to the insti­tute at Stan­ford that pro­duced the above men­tioned report) to defeat this mea­sure, it is not sur­pris­ing that this report has come out now.


Nutri­tional value, how­ever, has never been the cen­tral argu­ment in favor of organic food or against GM food (though stud­ies have shown that indus­trial farm­ing of all kinds has in fact reduced the nutri­tional con­tent of Amer­i­can food over the past half cen­tury). Peo­ple who choose to eat organic food and eschew GMOs do so to avoid pes­ti­cides (such as those show­ered on Monsanto’s Round-up Ready crops), insec­ti­cides (such as those con­tained in every part of Bt plants) hor­mones and other addi­tives. A report like this, from a rep­utable uni­ver­sity at such a cru­cial time can be con­fus­ing to vot­ers at best.

Across the pond, the EU has reg­u­lated food label­ing (as men­tioned in my last report on olive oil label­ing) and organic food for more than a decade. With the turn­about in recent years over the place of fats and oils in a healthy diet, olive oil has become a key ingre­di­ent in main­tain­ing health and in some cases cur­ing the ills caused by an increas­ingly indus­trial diet. It is no sur­prise that organic olive oil, which com­bines the ben­e­fit of olive oil and the ben­e­fit of organ­ics (i.e. pes­ti­cide and insec­ti­cide-free, and avoid­ance of aller­gies which many believe are caused by BM food), has rid­den the tide of this trend.

Over the last few years, EU reg­u­la­tions per­tain­ing to organ­ics have become even more strin­gent. New stan­dards and label­ing require­ments have been set out in sev­eral new Reg­u­la­tions enacted between 2007 and 2012. The label­ing require­ment of organic food men­tioned above is another step in Euro­peaniz­ing” spe­cialty foods. Imported organic foods (the sub­ject of Reg­u­la­tion 1235/2008) are not affected as long as they orig­i­nate in coun­tries with equiv­a­lent stan­dards, and an organic equiv­a­lence agree­ment was signed between the US and the EU in Feb­ru­ary, 2012. Although an agree­ment regard­ing organic wine came into effect on August 1, 2012, it is not known whether such an agree­ment is in the works for olive oil.

Cal­i­for­nia is the pri­mary olive oil pro­duc­ing state in the US and pos­si­bly the most organic-aware’ as well. A search of the United States Patent Office using the terms genetic mod­i­fi­ca­tion’ and olives’ turns up over 200 patents, and the same search of the World Intel­lec­tual Prop­erty Organization’s data base turns up ten times that amount, with the vast major­ity of appli­cants being multi-national biotech­nol­ogy com­pa­nies. GMOs and organ­ics have a very uneasy rela­tion­ship. Where GMOs are enabled to expand fur­ther with­out being required to inform the pub­lic of their exis­tence in foods, organ­ics are threat­ened. If con­sumer pro­tec­tion has any mean­ing at all, label­ing would seem to be a no-brainer.

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