20 Apr

Olives NZ step downs welcomed

By Blair Ensor,

The New Zealand olive oil industry’s governing body has imploded in the wake of a controversial choice for the nation’s best-in-show olive oil award.

marlborough-olive-grower-mark-heardFour executive members of Olives New Zealand, including the president, have resigned in the fallout from a meeting held to thrash out concerns surrounding the awards.

The body represents more than 270 members and oversees olive processing, marketing, science and research, harvesting and grower advice.

Head judge, and owner of Waiheke Olive Oil Company, Margaret Edwards, was accused by critics of a conflict of interest after she was on a panel of judges that awarded her own olive oil first prize at the 2008 Olives New Zealand Extra Virgin Olive Oil Awards last October.

At the Greytown meeting last month Mrs Edwards admitted she had broken a rule that she had implemented four months before the awards which banned judges from assessing their own oil and said she would return the award.

After the meeting Mrs Edwards, who was vice-president of Olives New Zealand, along with three other members resigned. Those members were: President Jim Syme and executive members Colin Campbell and Andrew Taylor.

The meeting agreed a PR statement would be released to acknowledge the error and to outline changes made to rules and conditions to prevent it happening again.

Mr Taylor and Mr Campbell said they resigned because the release did not take on the form some members expected it to.

Mr Taylor said he did not trust the senior Olive New Zealand leadership.

“They didn’t follow through on the outcomes that we had agreed to.”

Mr Campbell said the draft release he offered suggestions on had changed significantly by the time it was released to members on Friday, March 20, without adequate consultation.

He understood the statement was to be released to members and media, but it was released to only members.

Mr Syme would provide no comment to The Marlborough Express, but in a statement to Olive New Zealand members he said he had been unsuccessful in gaining the confidence and support of the chairs of Auckland, Hawkes Bay and Marlborough olive oil committees.

Mrs Edwards said she had resigned from her role as vice-president after Mr Symes had resigned because she did not want to take on the role of president; however, she had since been co-opted back on to the executive.

“It’s not an area I’m skilled at so I resigned,” she said.

Awatere River Olive Oil co-owner Mark Heard said Mr Taylor and Mr Campbell had good grounds to resign, and Mr Syme’s resignation was a good thing for the industry. He had “defended the indefensible” and had not handled the media well, he said.

“I have got no confidence in the remaining executive and I still think a public apology is required from Margaret Edwards and Olive New Zealand over last year’s award controversy.”

Awatere River Olive Oil co-owner Phyllis Heard said the resignation of Mr Taylor and Mr Campbell from the executive was a big loss for the industry because they were two of the country’s major growers who understood the industry and how to market olives.

However, Mr Syme’s and Mrs Edwards’ resignation was good for the industry because they were boutique growers who lacked real horticultural experience, she said.

Mr Taylor said it was time for a clean out of the executive and a fresh start. “I’m hopeful that the greater membership will meet in an extraordinary meeting to be able to convene a new executive leadership structure.”

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