New Law Attempts to Ensure Extra Virgin Is Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Olive oil users will have a better chance of getting what they pay for under legislation signed OCtober 7 by Gov. Jerry Brown.

The new law tightens the definition of various calibers of olive oil, like “virgin” and “extra virgin” to conform with standards adopted by the USDA in October – the first federal olive oil updating since 1948.

By doing so, the hope is California consumers will reject imported olive oils on supermarket shelves claiming to be “extra virgin,” which, — more than two out of three times – actually aren’t.

Instead, supporters of the bill hope buyers will pick the real stuff – hopefully grown in Calfornia.

“We spend a lot of money for imported extra virgin olive oil that, in many cases isn’t extra virgin, when we produce actual extra virgin olive oil ourselves,” said Sen. Lois Wolk, a Davis Democrat, who carried the labeling legislation.

 In 2010 studies, University of California at Davis and Australian researchers found that of the five best-selling, imported “extra virgin” olive oils – Star, Pompeian, Bertolli, Colavita, Filippo Berio – 73 percent of them didn’t meet International Olive Council standards for “extra virgin.”

To California’s growing olive oil industry what “extra virgin” means is a big deal. Their “extra virgin” can’t compete against lower priced olive oils claiming to also be “extra virgin.”

A tighter definition of olive oil grades is aimed at preventing that.

Each year, more California growers enter the marketplace.

?In 2004, 6,000 acres in California were devoted to creating olive oil. Seven years later, 30,000 acres.

Roughly 80 percent of all categories of olive oil are made in the European union, which has labeling standards comparable to the USDA. In the past, however, enforcement has been lax, allowing for adulteration and labeling abuses.

 Given its Mediterranean-like climate, California represents 99.5 percent of domestic olive oil production. Worldwide, California ranks about 20th.

Thirty years ago, Americans consumed 8 million gallons of the stuff annually. Today, 80 million gallons. 

“One of the fastest growing production crops is olives. They’re being planted the way they were planting vineyards 10 years ago,” said Wolk, whose kitchen contains bottles of olive oil made in her Yolo County centered district.

 “The good stuff tastes different. More flavorful. Full-bodied.”



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