Courtesy of the American Olive Oil Producers Association
Olive oil producers in California have approved a state commission that will regulate grades and standards for the product.
Mislabeling of olive oil has stirred controversy, as importers of lower-quality oils have been accused of marketing them as the highest “extra virgin” grade.
About 86 percent of California olive oil producers who voted in a recent referendum favored the new commission, which can enforce standards for the state’s product but not imported oil.
While imports won’t be affected by the rules, California producers still believe the standards and grades will help differentiate their product, said Kimberly Houlding, executive director of the American Olive Oil Producers Association.
“This is an opportunity for the California industry to create consumer confidence,” said Houlding.
The hope is that shoppers will choose California olive oil because they can be sure to get the quality they paid for, she said.
“Ultimately, consumers will make a choice based on taste and quality,” Houlding said.
The amount of money to be raised by the new commission has yet to be decided, but the assessment rate on producers cannot exceed 25 cents per gallon.
Specifics about the assessment and testing regime are to be decided by a board of directors that was to be elected on April 1 and 2.
Producers who make fewer than 5,000 gallons per year will not be subject to the assessment or quality standards, but they can serve on an advisory board to the commission.
The producer referendum was required by a bill in the California legislature, SB 250, that passed last year.
The legislation formed the commission, pending grower approval, and was sponsored by state Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis.
Apart from enforcing grades and standards, the commission will fund research for the olive oil industry.
Houlding said she hopes the program will strengthen California olive oil producers like similar commissions have done for almonds and walnuts.
“They’ve really helped advance the particular industries,” she said.
Domestic olive oil producers tried to include a federal grading system for the product in the 2014 Farm Bill, but the provision drew opposition from importers and was omitted from the final version.
The U.S. International Trade Commission has found that mislabeled exports have hindered the competitiveness of U.S. olive oil.
Consumers are confused about olive oil grades and often buy the cheapest product, which is sometimes adulterated with other vegetable oils, according to an agency report.