` American Olive Oil Producers Draft Federal Marketing Order

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American Olive Oil Producers Draft Federal Marketing Order

Mar. 18, 2012
By Curtis Cord

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Adam Engle­hardt, vice pres­i­dent of Cal­i­for­nia Olive Ranch is among those lead­ing an effort to draft a fed­eral mar­ket­ing order for olive oil.

Amer­i­can olive oil pro­duc­ers are draft­ing a fed­eral mar­ket­ing order that would set higher qual­ity stan­dards, rede­fine grades and require new test­ing of all olive oil pro­duced here. If they can get the order adopted by the USDA, indus­try sources say, domes­tic pro­duc­ers will push for the rules to apply to imports too.

The effort is the lat­est in a series of ini­tia­tives intended to level the play­ing field with olive oil importers who have long enjoyed an absence of qual­ity enforce­ment in the world’s biggest mar­ket. The result has been an extra vir­gin grade with no real mean­ing, and an Amer­i­can pub­lic so accus­tomed to ran­cid olive oil, they actu­ally pre­fer it in taste tests.

A draft of the mar­ket­ing order (PDF) was first pre­sented at a Jan­u­ary con­fer­ence held in Dixon, Cal­i­for­nia and later dis­cussed at a Cal­i­for­nia State Sen­ate sub­com­mit­tee infor­ma­tional hear­ing.

Mar­ket­ing orders are enforced by the USDA at the request of domes­tic grow­ers to estab­lish qual­ity stan­dards and pool their resources.

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Sec­tion 8e of the Agri­cul­tural Mar­ket­ing Agree­ment Act of 1937 (PDF) pro­vides that when cer­tain domes­ti­cally pro­duced com­modi­ties are reg­u­lated by a fed­eral mar­ket­ing order, imports must also meet the qual­ity stan­dards.

Oranges and toma­toes are among the imported com­modi­ties sub­ject to mar­ket­ing orders under Sec­tion 8e, and Cal­i­for­nia olive oil pro­duc­ers will likely be wag­ing a cam­paign to include olive oil in that group.

An out­line of the mar­ket­ing order was obtained by Olive Oil Times.

While those involved said the draft is being updated con­tin­u­ously as an advi­sory com­mit­tee receives feed­back from indus­try stake­hold­ers and grower orga­ni­za­tions, some of the main points of the work­ing doc­u­ment are:

  • Sweep­ing new label­ing guide­lines includ­ing spec­i­fi­ca­tions for best-by dates, grades and ori­gin claims
  • Pro­duc­ers would be required to have oils tested using new meth­ods proven to be bet­ter at detect­ing adul­ter­ation
  • Oils in the extra vir­gin grade would need to meet a series of new chem­i­cal spec­i­fi­ca­tions includ­ing a limit of 0.5% for free fatty acid­ity

California State Senator Lois Wolk (left), Adam Englehardt (California Olive Ranch), Paul Miller (Australian Olive Association), Bob Bauer (NAOOA) and Dan Flynn (UC Davis) at an informational hearing of the California State Senate Subcommittee on Olive oil and Emerging Products on January 26.

In response to the move, the North Amer­i­can Olive Oil Asso­ci­a­tion, which is made up of the largest olive oil importers and dis­trib­u­tors, alerted its mem­bers to con­tact your national rep­re­sen­ta­tives,” (PDF) and NAOOA Vice Pres­i­dent Eryn Balch called the draft an attempt to restrict trade by com­pletely elim­i­nat­ing sev­eral cat­e­gories of olive oil, while also impos­ing rejected test meth­ods on the indus­try.”

Not sur­pris­ingly, some in the domes­tic indus­try see it dif­fer­ently. Cal­i­for­nia con­sul­tant Alexan­dra Devarenne said the U.S. indus­try was just plain doing the right thing here by ally­ing itself clearly and firmly with qual­ity,” in a move that will ben­e­fit all hon­est traders.

The stakes are big for for­eign and domes­tic pro­duc­ers who see the poten­tial in the huge Amer­i­can mar­ket, where even an incre­men­tal rise in per capita con­sump­tion would pro­vide a much-needed boost for a global olive oil indus­try roil­ing in a pro­longed pric­ing cri­sis, and tee­ter­ing on the edge of prof­itabil­ity.

The Inter­na­tional Olive Coun­cil, whose mem­ber coun­tries (the U.S. not being one of them) account for more than 98 per­cent of the global olive oil pro­duc­tion, has not com­mented on the recent devel­op­ments in Cal­i­for­nia which are at odds with the IOC’s man­date to estab­lish com­mon inter­na­tional rules and har­mo­nize” laws to facil­i­tate trade.

IOC Exec­u­tive Direc­tor Jean-Louis Bar­jol has made it a pri­or­ity for his admin­is­tra­tion to bring the United States into the ranks of IOC mem­ber coun­tries. That prospect seems less likely now, and pro­duc­ers in the U.S. say they have lit­tle con­fi­dence that the Madrid-based, U.N.-sanctioned orga­ni­za­tion can bring about mean­ing­ful change in an indus­try long famous for its decep­tive prac­tices.

Crit­ics say the cur­rent sleight-of-hand word­ing on labels per­mit­ted by the inter­na­tional stan­dard and its lax chem­i­cal bench­marks are care­fully crafted to facil­i­tate uneth­i­cal prac­tices like pass­ing deoder­ized oils off as extra vir­gin. It only seems more sus­pi­cious when rep­re­sen­ta­tives of major olive oil com­pa­nies oppose the use of sen­sory assess­ment pan­els (experts trained to detect defec­tive olive oil sam­ples), call­ing them too sub­jec­tive.”

The IOC has­n’t come out against sen­sory pan­els and, in fact, the orga­ni­za­tion remains the most impor­tant cer­ti­fier of expert olive oil tast­ing pan­els in the world. Last year, the UC Davis Olive Cen­ter panel received its IOC cer­ti­fi­ca­tion — the only one in the US — with some fan­fare. This year, how­ever, the panel failed to earn the cov­eted des­ig­na­tion.

Instead of turn­ing his sights on next year’s IOC test, Olive Cen­ter Direc­tor Dan Flynn said his panel will be first in line when the Amer­i­can Oil Chemists’ Soci­ety (AOCS) launches their new olive oil sen­sory accred­i­ta­tion pro­gram. AOCS is the world’s old­est stan­dards-set­ting orga­ni­za­tion for fats and oils and it is great that they are extend­ing their accred­i­ta­tion ser­vices to olive oil sen­sory pan­els,” Flynn told Olive Oil Times. That pro­gram will be dis­cussed at the soci­ety’s annual meet­ing in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia next month.

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If any­thing, the gulf between New World pro­duc­ers and the IOC seems to be get­ting wider and the fledg­ling Amer­i­can indus­try is draw­ing inspi­ra­tion from the Aus­tralians who recently adopted their own set of stan­dards and waged a cam­paign to edu­cate con­sumers on olive oil qual­ity. Those stan­dards, which the IOC con­demned as a bar­rier to trade” have been gain­ing some trac­tion.

Aus­tralian Olive Asso­ci­a­tion Pres­i­dent Paul Miller hit the air­waves and led tele­vi­sion crews through super­mar­kets shelves in a media blitz that pressed the big OZ retail­ers to respect the new stan­dard. And while the Aus­tralian con­sumers’ tastes did­n’t change fast enough to save the sec­ond largest Aussie pro­ducer from going bank­rupt, imports sank 25 per­cent in the first three months of the cur­rent crop year.

Not all of that was off­set by domes­tic sales, though, and the NAOOA’s Eryn Balch warned that bad­mouthing imported olive oils could wind up sour­ing appetites for the prod­uct in all its forms. A greater gen­eral con­cern is that the trend in Aus­tralia in the last few years has shown a gen­eral over­all decline in con­sump­tion per capita dur­ing the time that the AOA has been pro­mot­ing their sim­i­lar cam­paign for qual­ity,” Balch said, refer­ring to data in an undated post on the web­site OliveBusiness.com.

It’s not total con­sump­tion that con­cerns qual­ity-con­scious pro­duc­ers — in the Old and New Worlds — who say they deserve a fair crack at what­ever con­sump­tion there is. They con­tend many of the largest olive oil com­pa­nies are built on mod­els that depend on mov­ing low-qual­ity olive oil labeled extra vir­gin that just man­ages to mea­sure up to the pre­vail­ing inter­na­tional chem­i­cal stan­dard but would fail taste tests (which they are rarely sub­jected to). Mod­ern test­ing meth­ods and enforce­ment can level the play­ing field, and ensure con­sumers get what they pay for, reform­ers say, and that will ben­e­fit hon­est olive oil mar­keters every­where.

Those mod­ern tests cost money and pro­duc­ers will pass on the costs brought on by the new stan­dards to con­sumers in the form of higher prices. The hope is that con­sumers will be will­ing to pay a lit­tle more if they know they’re get­ting a qual­ity prod­uct.

The idea of an updated qual­ity stan­dard for olive oil is noth­ing new, noted Devarenne, What is new is some of the tech­nol­ogy for test­ing fresh­ness and qual­ity, and that will con­tinue to develop with the sci­ence. The fed­eral mar­ket­ing order is a way for the domes­tic indus­try to orga­nize its efforts.”

The impli­ca­tions of the bold ini­tia­tive will likely extend far beyond Amer­i­can shores to the fledg­ling indus­tries in Aus­tralia, South Africa, South Amer­ica and other rel­a­tive new­com­ers to the olive oil busi­ness.

Miller, who late last year began lay­ing the ground­work for an orga­ni­za­tion of New World pro­duc­ers called the World Olive Oil Qual­ity Alliance con­firmed the sit­u­a­tion in Cal­i­for­nia was being watched closely. Clearly the USA is part of this ini­tia­tive so what hap­pens there is of inter­est to the alliance but I think it is of equal inter­est to the whole olive world,” he said.

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