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Natural Foods Merchandiser

USDA adopts new olive-oil standards

No longer can olive-oil manufacturers claim their products are “virgin” or “extra virgin” if indeed they’re not. The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently adopted new scientifically verifiable standards for olive oil that will go in effect starting in October.

“It will put an end to marketing terms that are confusing to the consumer, such as light, extra light—language that really doesn’t mean too much,” said Patricia Darragh, executive director of the California Olive Oil Council, to the Associated Press.

The COOC, a trade association of olive-oil producers, petitioned the USDA for a revision of old standards “to reflect current industry standards commonly accepted in the United States and abroad,” according to the new regulations.

In response, the USDA largely based the update on International Olive Oil Council’s standards, which are recognized internationally by olive-oil producers and marketers, including the COOC. The revised U.S. grade standards include mandatory tests for flavor, odor, color, fatty acid composition and ultraviolet absorption. They also include confirmatory tests to determine the purity of the olive oil. Optional tests include measures for flash point, heavy metals, pesticide residues and more, some of which are monitored by the FDA.

How might these new rules affect olive-oil manufacturers and consumers?

“I'm personally delighted as I think consumers will be protected from some of the adulterated oils currently being sold as extra virgin,” said Al Hamman, a U.S. market expert for Hamman Associates who works with the Export Ministry of Tunisia to promote Tunisian Olive Oil to the United States. “For legitimate and reliable olive-oil manufacturers, I don't think their costs or processes will be impacted because they've always paid attention to production detail.”

Anthony DiPietro, vice president of DeLallo, a Jeannette, Pa.-based olive-oil manufacturer, agreed, noting that DeLallo product prices won’t increase as a result of the revised USDA rules because the company will be able to use the same manufacturing and testing processes.

“We are already producing under higher standards,” DiPietro said. “DeLallo has always produced olive oil—and for that matter extra virgin olive oil—equal to or beyond the International Olive Oil Council’s standards.”

“We are very happy about the USDA standards,” DiPietro added. “We believe that they will benefit consumers and hope that in the future they will become even more stringent in regards to declaration of country of origin to further identify extra virgin olive oil origins to the consumer.”

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