12 Sep

EU to help consumers identify top quality olive oil

By Jeremy Smith,

Europe’s olive oil producers may soon have to mark their best-quality brands with origin labels to stop consumers being misled about where the oil comes from, EU officials said on Friday.

Next week, EU experts will vote on whether to make origin labelling compulsory for virgin and extra virgin olive oils. If they agree, the World Trade Organisation would be informed and, if there are no problems, the rules would enter force next July.

The idea is to make it clear to consumers if a bottle of oil has been made from olives from one EU country or is a blend that may include oil produced outside the European Union — Tunisia, Morocco and Syria, for example, are all important producers.

Even so, the European Union remains the world’s leading olive oil producer, accounting for 80 percent of output and around 70 percent of consumption. Spain, followed by Italy and Greece, are the top producers worldwide.

In 2002, the EU updated its olive oil marketing rules to allow optional labelling for virgin and extra virgin oils.
Extra virgin is the highest quality olive oil, cold pressed and with a very low acid content, derived from the first pressing of the olives. Virgin olive oils have slightly higher amounts of acid. Neither grade may contain refined oil.

But the European Commission, the EU executive, says this was not enough to stop consumers sometimes being misled about the oil’s real origins or characteristics, given that local farming practices — extraction and blending techniques, for example — can give oils different taste and quality depending on origin.

If the experts agree to the Commission plan at their meeting next Wednesday, olive oils coming from one just EU country would carry the name of the country of origin.

Blends would be labelled as either “blend of Community olive oils”, “blend of non-Community olive oils” or “blend of Community and non-Community olive oils”.

“The Commission’s objective was always to go for compulsory origin labelling but it wasn’t possible before because of traceability and other problems. But now traceability is better,” one Commission official said.
“The Italians have been pushing this one quite hard — they adopted a national law that was incompatible with EU rules and also very complicated. But now the Commission is proposing something fairly simple,” he said.

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