E.U. Table oil law rocks the boat | Pictures | Food Newsie

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E.U. Table oil law rocks the boat

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E.U. Table oil law rocks the boat

Much has been made of the decision to flatly outlaw certain olive oils European restaurants provided on tables for customers. Germany simply called it ‘silly.’ The olive oil bottles are widely held as an icon of dining, comfort, family and provides a romantic staple not only for visitors from abroad, but Europeans as well. New laws effective January 1st, 2014 stipulate that only approved olive oil from producers following strict, new bottle and label guidelines will be permitted. The timing of this decision has been touted as an absurd curiosity as the European Union enters its fifth year of financial woes that threaten to divide the Union. On the face of it, outlawing small producer olive oil feels frivolous. The fake olive oil market, however, produces profits on par with cocaine trafficking. The E.U. head city, Brussels, might not be making as random a law as it seems.

When Europeans found out about the fraudulent EVOO

In the mid/late 90’s, the most counterfeit agricultural product in the E.U. was olive oil. Nestlé, Unilever, Bertolli, and Oleifici Fasanesi all sourced their olive oil from large scale Italian olive oil producers who gained from the $12 MILLION Euros subsidies meant to support farmers. By this time, an olive oil task force had already established what was arriving to the olive oil refineries was in fact Hazelnut oil from Turkey, Sunflower seed oil from Argentina and the like. Before arriving to Barletta, a port in Italy, where ship manifests are checked for customs, the holds were re-labeled to contain Greek olive oil. Off the Greek olive oil (in name only) went to Italian producers and in came portions of the $12 MILLION Euros to repay refineries who had paid the olive farmers who, in cases like this, hadn’t provided anything.

In 2000, after years of numerous investigations, the European Court of Auditors declared that Italy accounted for 78% of misappropriated subsidies in the preceding fifteen years. That money, embezzled by awfully good crooks, was hidden away and nowhere to be found. The government was unable to recover any significant portion of that money to use again in more honest dealings. Since that time, fraudulent olive oil continues to find its way into distribution through other routes, and the government has responded by reducing the subsidies. They have not found a lasting way to stop the fraud.

When news permeated American media

In the last decade, Americans spent an estimated $720 MILLION dollars annually on olive oil that’s still adulterated despite Europe’s best efforts to control the quality of what they see as an iconic ingredient both in the cooking and culture. When Americans found out that trusted names like Nestlé and Bertolli were bottling olive oil mixed with other oils as pure and extra virgin, they thrust the blame in the nearest soft spot, the distributors. To date, no large scale distributor of such oil has been found complicit or to knowingly have had a hand in the fraud or to have benefitted from any crimes of embezzlement.

As more Americans learn…

With the controversy still rising in pitch in the United States, Dr. Oz showed millions of viewers how to test their olive oil at home for purity using a method that doesn’t work. Regardless, when Extra Virgin Olive Oil failed his bogus test, consumers rang up distributors by the thousands with nothing nice to say at all. Oil that fails the useless oil test has been proven to be, at times, some of the most pure EVOO on the market by the California Olive Oil Council; a group as passionate about protecting olive oil purity in America as the International Olive Council is all over Europe. Though the recent method Dr. Oz presented viewers is bunk, several years ago when the olive oil torch lit up stateside, the Davis Olive Center of University of California had found through laboratory testing and sensory examination almost three-quarters of 134 European samples to be mislabeled and not truly EVOO but just VOO (really, the difference is explained later).

E.U. Table oil law rocks the boat

Olive Oil certification is a serious commodity protection. The E.U. has their own ICO from 1962 but the USA isn't involved. The USDA and COOC both shifted their Extra Virgin Olive Oil measure to match the ICO and with most of the fraud overseas, it might be worth considering the anti-traditional route of buying the European staple from the U.S.

This discovery prompted the Executive Director of the California Olive Oil Council to initiate the trend of stabbing at easy, soft targets: Europe – where some UC – Davis sensory experts came from having their sensory skills accredited by the International Olive Council (86% of their sensory claims were supported by lab results). Said the fuming Executive Director, “The evidence continues to build that substandard foreign olive oil is being intentionally dumped in the U.S. to take advantage of the growing demand for olive oil among American consumers.”

No one likes being called foreign. The International Olive Council shot back saying, that wasn’t very nice. The “intentionally dumped” comment came from the second of two reports from UC – Davis studies. The E.U., victims themselves for over twenty years, calmly measured out that they understand what it’s like to be taken advantage of and essentially, fittingly, presented an olive branch:

“…both (UC – Davis) reports have the same evident undercurrent of aggressive, inexplicable criticism of imported olive oil in quality,” the statement reads. “This could cause irreparable damage to the reputation of olive oil, which has taken so much time and effort to achieve and maintain and consequently for all of us who work with this product.”

At this point, some home chefs might be curious about how they can test the purity of their oil labeled as pure, extra virgin olive oil. The Davis Olive Center, the research and education division of the California Olive Oil Council knows this. Presumably to stop every home chef in America from sending in a sample, pricing for a proper evaluation begins in the neighborhood of $600 dollars.

E.U. Table oil law rocks the boat

"And/or?" Uh-oh. That's a lot of daddies for one baby - Olive Oil should be the baby of a producer and treated as such for better control and quality. Additionally, one purity test we don't recommend but know holds somewhat true is the "on your face" test. Good skin, pure. Break out with mad pimples, not so pure. And that's only good on a bottle by bottle basis. Any takers?

A little IOC and EVOO/VOO crashcourse

The International Olive Council was formed in 1962 by the United Nations. The U.S. is not a member. Hence, “Extra Virgin” can, legally, mean something different and still be proper labeling. The USDA adopted many IOC-like quality measurements in October 2010, but to be clear, here are IOC controls for “Extra Virgin” beginning at the beginning: Olive Oil is fat obtained by grinding a whole olive. Fat can be extracted by chemical (which includes temperature) or physical means. VIRGIN Olive Oil is obtained without chemicals or heat, (hence: the COLD PRESS remarks on bottles) and must measure less than 1.5% acidity and should taste good. EXTRA Virgin Olive Oil, EVOO, is VOO measuring less than 0.8% acidity and additionally tastes excellent. “Extra Vergine,” is not a sneaky loophole spelling, it’s Italian and it would be fine if you got some.

Brussels’ pending law

The European Union is bleeding money. Leeching the cuts are plenty of insider corporate heavies taking advantage of the Black Market for Olive Oil for over twenty years. Sadly, changes proposed will smash Olive Oil producers in Spain where the financial troubles are especially threatening. Spain produces over 43% of the World’s olive oil. Most of Spain’s olive oil comes from the Andalucia region (75%). Following the new guidelines will require radical shifts in bottling, factory output, collection, labeling, shipping and record keeping. That is a paradigm shift. Spain can scarcely afford to up-end its most important industry to such a degree.

Is it a Big Food conspiracy?

Many are claiming the new law will only benefit the largest producers – Spain is the largest producer and the logic defies the “Big Food” accusation/conspiracies. Many are claiming that the Black Market has control of Brussels and, that as a result, Italian refineries, able to afford the changes, will go on thriving on mislabeled Olio Extra Vergine de Oliva – This is illogical as well since the Black Market doesn’t make money by killing avenues that illegally earn them ill-gotten subsidies (if Greek and Spanish olive oil producers too poor to change then become outlawed goods, then falsely labeling Greek and Spanish origins would be simple-stupid easy to trace and would then be found to be criminally bogus claims by embezzling refineries, where the money goes).

It looks most of all like the E.U. is exhausted and out of ideas when it comes to fighting the successful crime of fraudulent olive oil. It’s actually in the best interests of big producers (who will lose access to the most desirable Olive Oils) AND the black market (who will lose access to doubling their money) to fight this olive oil bottle law with all their collective power; strange bedfellows indeed who might find themselves at the same table smiling dreamily at the traditional bottle of oil between them they help to save.

A ridiculous amount of resources went into this post but the computer crashed and the browsing session was lost. If you’d like the list retrieved, Comment that you have a serious interest and I’ll piece together what research lead to what claims and statements and figures above. -B

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