Both Sides of Labeling Divide Satisfied As Amended Bill Passes California Senate

The bill, AB-535, would require brands that use the term “California” in their name to disclose the minimum percentage of California olive oil in their blended products.
Sep. 1, 2021
Daniel Dawson

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California’s State Senate has passed an amended Assembly Bill 535 by a near-unan­i­mous mar­gin. Thirty-eight state sen­a­tors from both par­ties voted in favor of AB-535, with two absten­tions.

The con­tro­ver­sial olive oil label­ing bill will now go to the governor’s desk, from which point it is expected to be signed into law.

Is it as won­der­ful as the orig­i­nal ver­sion? No. But that’s pol­i­tics and I still think the spirit of the bill is intact. I still think it will help con­sumers and smaller domes­tic pro­duc­ers like us.- Samantha Dorsey, pres­i­dent, McEvoy Ranch

Proponents of the leg­is­la­tion cel­e­brated the bill’s pas­sage as a vic­tory for truth in label­ing, despite their con­tention that the final ver­sion of the bill had been sig­nif­i­cantly watered down.

Meanwhile, oppo­nents of AB-535 were pleased with the con­ces­sions won in the sen­ate that removed the most strin­gent require­ments from the bill.

See Also: California’s Olive Oil Producers Face Uncertain Future as Historic Drought Continues

I am still 100-per­cent sup­port­ive of AB-535 even in its cur­rent con­di­tion,” Samantha Dorsey, the pres­i­dent of McEvoy Ranch and mem­ber of the California Coalition for Truth in Olive Oil Labeling (CCTOOL), which has lob­bied heav­ily in favor of the bill since its intro­duc­tion in 2020, told Olive Oil Times. When it does pass, I think it will be a ben­e­fit for our state. The com­pro­mise is just part of that process.”

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Originally, AB-535 sought to pro­hibit the use of the word California’ on any label, brand name or offi­cial com­pany doc­u­ments if it was not pro­duced from 100-per­cent California-grown olives.

It is unlaw­ful to label any olive oil with a rep­re­sen­ta­tion that all the olives used to pro­duce the olive oil were grown in California, includ­ing the terms California olive oil,’ California olives,’ or some­thing sub­stan­tially sim­i­lar, unless all the olives used to pro­duce the olive oil were grown in California,” the orig­i­nal text of the bill read.

Supporters of the bill said the leg­is­la­tion – in its orig­i­nal word­ing – was designed to end mis­lead­ing prac­tices and level the play­ing field by mak­ing sure the word California’ was solely asso­ci­ated with California prod­ucts and not imported blends.

Meanwhile, oppo­nents of the bill, includ­ing California Olive Ranch (COR), the largest olive oil pro­ducer in the United States, said the bill was a less-than-sub­tle attempt to pun­ish large pro­duc­ers.

However, Michael Fox, the company’s CEO, told Olive Oil Times that he was sat­is­fied with the com­pro­mises reached in the Senate. The amended bill will allow the com­pany to keep their Global Blend brand, which is made with olives from California, Portugal, Argentina and Chile, under the COR label.

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California Olive Ranch

It’s a com­pro­mise, and we were really grate­ful for the author’s office for being will­ing to work with us and hats off to the Senate Agriculture Committee,” Fox said. I don’t think every­one got what they wanted, but that’s what com­pro­mise is, get­ting to a place that we can all live with.”

The new lan­guage of the bill states that com­pa­nies such as COR can keep California” promi­nently embla­zoned at the top of labels of prod­ucts made with olives grown out­side of California as long as the min­i­mum per­cent­age of olives from California is placed on the label in the same font, size and color.

This bill would also require a con­tainer of olive oil pro­duced, processed, sold, offered for sale, given away or pos­sessed in California that includes California’ in any form on its prin­ci­pal dis­play panel and con­tains olive oil derived from olives grown out­side California to dis­close the min­i­mum per­cent­age of olive oil in the con­tainer derived from olives grown in California,” the amended bill reads. The bill would pre­scribe spe­cific lan­guage to make the dis­clo­sure and require that it be in the same font, size and color as the word California.’”

Once the bill is signed into law, a process that may be com­pli­cated by the guber­na­to­r­ial recall elec­tion set to take place on September 14, the new reg­u­la­tions will apply to all olive oil pro­duced after December 31, 2021.

Despite the uncer­tainty sur­round­ing the recall elec­tion on the cur­rent leg­isla­tive ses­sion, Fox said COR is already mak­ing the appro­pri­ate changes to the Global Blend brand, act­ing as if the law has already been passed.

We assume that the law will be signed, and so we are in the process of mak­ing changes to our labels,” he said. Our Global Blend series will be updated to reflect these com­pli­ance needs.”

Along with lim­it­ing the use of the term California” on olive oil labels in the state, the orig­i­nal ver­sion of AB-535 also sought to limit the use of or ref­er­ence to spe­cific California regions unless 85 per­cent of the olives used to make the oil were grown in that region.

See Also: A Third of The Best American Olive Oils Come from This California Region

It is unlaw­ful to label any olive oil with a label indi­cat­ing or rep­re­sent­ing that the olives used to pro­duce the olive oil were grown in a spe­cific region of California, or to make a rep­re­sen­ta­tion to that effect, unless at least 85 per­cent of the olive oil, by weight, was pro­duced from olives grown in that spe­cific region,” the orig­i­nal ver­sion of the bill read.

However, his part of the bill was also amended – watered down, in the view of its pro­po­nents – to allow com­pa­nies such as Napa Valley Naturals to keep their brand name in place on bot­tles of olive oil in which less than 85 per­cent of the olives came from the ref­er­enced region.

Olive oil pro­duced, processed, sold, offered for sale, given away or pos­sessed in California, that indi­cates on its label that it is from a spe­cific region of California shall be made of oil at least 85 per­cent of which, by weight, is derived from olives grown in the spec­i­fied region,” the amended bill reads.

This sec­tion does not pro­hibit an olive oil pro­ducer or proces­sor from using a truth­ful, non-mis­lead­ing state­ment or rep­re­sen­ta­tion regard­ing the geo­graphic ori­gin of the olives used in the pro­duc­tion of the olive oil in any label, pack­ag­ing mate­r­ial or adver­tis­ing if the label, pack­ag­ing mate­r­ial or adver­tis­ing con­tains no rep­re­sen­ta­tion that is pro­hib­ited by this sec­tion,” the amended bill con­tin­ues.

According to an analy­sis of the bill by the law firm Keller and Heckman, which spe­cial­izes in food and drug law, as long as com­pa­nies such as Napa Valley Naturals do not con­nect the terms olive oil” and Napa Valley on their labels or asso­ci­ated mate­ri­als, they will remain com­pli­ant.

For exam­ple, a brand name like Napa Valley Naturals’ includes ref­er­ence to a spe­cific California region, but does not make rep­re­sen­ta­tions that the olive oil is pro­duced in that region, and thus would not be sub­ject to the bill require­ments,” the firm wrote. However, a phrase like Napa Valley olive oil’ would be required to meet the 85 per­cent require­ment.”

While nei­ther side of the divide over California’s truth-in-label­ing debate got exactly what they wanted, both sides agreed that California con­sumers ulti­mately ben­e­fit from the new leg­is­la­tion.

I think it will still be help­ful for our con­sumers to see more clearly what is in the bot­tle,” Dorsey said. Is it as won­der­ful as the orig­i­nal ver­sion? No. But that’s pol­i­tics, and I still think the spirit of the bill is intact. I still think it will help con­sumers and smaller domes­tic pro­duc­ers like us.”

The con­sumers that will really care about this are the [ones pas­sion­ate about California olive oil],” Fox con­cluded. If this helps them under­stand fur­ther, then we’re happy to do it.”


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