Olive Oil: Navigating a Complex Regulatory Landscape
At the end of last year the Times of Israel announced that scientists had discovered traces of olive oil dating back to the year 5,800 BC on pottery remnants found in lower Galilee. That is a remarkably long history.
Olive oil regulation also has an illustrious history. Forty-five centuries before SGS began authenticating olive oil samples, royal food inspectors were already making rudimentary visits to crush mills in what is now Syria.1 By the 6th century BC the Greeks had regulated olive tree planting and a little later the Romans brought the first sophisticated labelling requirements into existence.
The factors that precipitated both modern and ancient regulation remain the same though: olive oil is a high value product yet it is also inherently easy to manipulate for false gain.
The industry has moved on significantly from the scandals that besmirched its reputation a few years ago and strenuous efforts are being made along the entire value chain to protect the integrity of the product. Producers themselves have led the charge in many ways, having taken significant steps in recent years to ensure that their processes are increasingly robust. Global regulators have also been seen to be active in the sector.
Yet as SGS’ white paper: Understanding Global Olive Oil Quality, Grading and Labelling Requirements points out, the regulatory landscape has subsequently become highly complex, and potentially confusing for producers to navigate.
Olive oil quality, grading and labelling remain voluntary in many countries. For example, while the European Union has strict and legally enforceable regulations, many countries operate with voluntary standards.
A further complication arises from the fact that every market has its own name for each olive oil grade. For example “ordinary virgin olive oil” and “lampante olive oil” are approximately the same product but they are sold in different markets. Even within each product grade there may be differing technical characteristics from one market to another. The discrepancies between these quality standards, along with the pressure from retailers and consumers to guarantee the product quality, are putting considerable pressure on olive oil manufactures.
This is where we step in. SGS is helping businesses navigate the regulatory environment and improve their supply chain management to ensure the integrity of their product. In our network of laboritories we test and authenticate samples based on the specifications set down by governments and independent bodies to ensure that the product can be trusted.
It is only by establishing stringent controls that address testing, verification and good practice that the olive oil industry can protect its reputation and maintain consumer confidence.
For more information on some of the issues affecting the global olive oil industry download a copy of the SGS white paper: Understanding Global Olive oil Quality, Grading and Labelling Requirements: A brief summary of voluntary industry standards and government/state regulations and an outline of common issues relating to adulteration and contamination.
Did You Know?
Extra virgin olive oil first appeared in the in the 1960’s and 1970’s after steel milling techniques were introduced which allowed the production of a much higher grade of olive oil than was previously possible. It now accounts for around 50% of all global olive oil production.