29 Feb

EU Seeks Answers From Italy Over Olive Oil Labels

The European Commission has given Italy two months to explain why it obliges olive oil producers to mark the origin of the olives on product labels in contravention of E.U. laws, a spokesman said Friday.

“As far as we are concerned, that is not in conformity with European legislation, where voluntary labeling is possible but not an obligatory system,” said Michael Mann, chief spokesman on agricultural matters.

The E.U.’s stance has been met with anger in the media in Italy, where fraud in the olive oil market is a common problem.

“I think it is legitimate that when you buy oil from Umbria, you want the olives to come from Umbria,” wrote the correspondent with Italian daily La Stampa, in an article published Friday.

“But Brussels couldn’t care less about that. For them, it’s good enough for the olives to be European, Europeanized olives.”

On Thursday, as the commission sent its warning, Italian customs officers seized some 15,000 liters of doctored Italian oil on its way to restaurants.

Italian farm group Coldiretti said the Italian law had helped with transparency in the industry, noting that olive imports to Italy from Greece, Spain and Tunisia rose 25% last year.

However, Mann said wide-ranging rules covering labels and the presentation and selling of olive oil exist in the E.U.

“According to the principles of the single market, it can be seen as discriminatory against olive oils from other countries if you are forcing people to put this origin labeling on it,” he said.

“It is against the rules to enforce a system of compulsory origin labeling except in very specific cases,” he said, but added that the commission would look at the union’s rules again next year if it found a real problem.

In the worst cases of fraud in the sector, cheaper colza oil with coloring and artificial flavoring is labeled and sold as olive oil.

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