California adopts olive-oil labeling standards

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — The state Department of Food and Agriculture has approved standards for grading and labeling California-produced olive oil that will require makers to prove their product really is extra-virgin olive oil if the label on the bottle says so.

The standards, scheduled to take effect next Friday, were recommended by the California Olive Oil Commission, an organization recently formed by the state's olive oil producers.

Under the new rules, most olive oil produced in California must be tested to determine if it has been mixed with any chemicals, other grades of oil or degraded.

The standards will eliminate the popular marketing term "light" to describe oil that has been refined with chemicals or additives. Also eliminated is the term "pure" to describe a mixture of virgin and refined olive oil.

Importers and distributors of olive oil produced outside California are exempt from the regulations. So are California millers who produce fewer than 5,000 gallons.

"California agriculture has an enviable reputation for high-quality products sought by consumers here and around the world," state Department of Agriculture Secretary Karen Ross said in a statement. "We believe the time has come to designate a California-grown olive oil, and these standards are an excellent way to do it."

The standards do not sit well with importers, the Los Angeles Times ( ) reported Friday, adding that they see them as a move leading to future restrictions.

Most of the 293,000 metric tons of olive oil consumed in the U.S. last year came from such European countries as Italy and Spain. California has been cutting into that market, however, producing 10,000 metric tons of olive oil last year, 10 times the amount delivered in 2007.

State agriculture officials say the new standards are based on research at the University of California, Davis' olive center.

"Only extra-virgin olive oil is produced here, and the standards will establish a more stringent limit for free fatty acids, a negative attribute that signals a breakdown of olive oil quality due to exposure to heat, light and oxygen," officials said in a news release. "The standards will be the first in the world to require testing of every lot of oil produced. "