Olive Oil Industry Pushes Government to Test Imported 'Extra Virgin' Oils

Feb 19, 2014 11:24 AM EST | By Dina Exil

Markets are targeting American shoppers by stocking their shelves with European imported oil, which is presumed to be cheaper and more authentic. However, U.S. producers are convinced that "extra virgin" olive oil imported from Europe may not be as pure as consumers think.

According to the Associated Press, olive oil advocates and producers in California have stated that European olive oil is often "mislabeled and lower-grade oil," and are urging the federal government to intervene by imposing stricter standards on imported varieties.

European imported oil have grabbed 97 percent of the U.S market. The AP reported that imposing stricter guidelines and standards might help American oil producers take back the market shares from the Europeans.

Still, olive oil production for the American market has grown steadily during the past five years, going from one percent of the national olive oil market to three percent, according to the Star Tribune. The United States now consumes the third largest amount of olive oil of any nation.

California has been crowned as the largest holder of oil production plants in the U.S. There are smaller operations in Texas, Georgia and a few other states.

Olive oil advocates and producers have headed to Washington to state their defense by holding olive oil tastings for Congress members and "lobbying them to put stricter standards on imports."

The arrangement became apart of the Farm Bill, but was stripped because of New York lawmakers, who had the support of food companies, markets and grocery stores that either sold or used olive oil.

With the support of California lawmakers, the arrangement would have allowed the Agriculture Department to boost quality controls, which are already mandatory, for imported items. The farm bill would have also allowed government testing on imported olive oil to ensure labeling is correct, a defense to prevent unqualified, low grade olive oil to be ladeled as "extra virgin," which is considered to be the highest quality.

"What we're after here is not to cause problems for our friends who would like to market it. It's more just the truth in advertising that's necessary," Republican Rep. Doug LaMalfa, a farmer from Northern California, said in an interview with the AP. He also added that labels for imported oils should read "extra rancid."

Republicans in New York are claiming that the new testing arrangement would cost too much and that every industry has its problems.

"It's not rancid," Republican Rep. Michael Grimm of Staten Island, N.Y., said in an interview with the AP. "There is always going to be a problem in every industry, but this is nothing more than a multimillion-dollar earmark,"

The recent farm bill signed by signed by President Barack Obama, did not mention the olive oil standards. The U.S. Trade Representative and the Food and Drug Administration, want to "remove the obstacles that are preventing the U.S. olive oil industry from reaching its potential."

Kimberly Houlding, executive director of the American Olive Oil Producers Association, stated that producers are still pushing for mandatory quality standards, despite Washington's failure to take action.

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