Sunday, October 18, 2009

Attempts to Change International Olive Oil Standards Stall

The attempts by Australia to change the Codex Alimentarius ‘Standard for Olive Oils and Olive Pomace Oils’ seem to have stalled. The Australian delegation has been leading the charge to amend the standards to allow higher levels of linolenic acid in olive oils to accommodate apparent variations in local growing conditions. Recently, the arguments for the proposed amendments have been extended to include higher campesterol levels, mainly to accommodate the high levels exhibited by the Barnea variety which has been extensively planted in Australia by large investment groves.

The higher than specification levels of linolenic acid and campesterol preclude the export of ‘outlier’ olive oils to the European Community, USA and other countries that are signatories to the Codex Alimentarius Standard for International Trade.

The levels of linolenic acid and campesterol in olive oils are important in detecting contamination or adulteration with vegetable oils.

In response to a report submitted by the Codex Committee on Fats and Oils to the thirty-second session of the Joint FAO/WHO standards programme of the Codex Alimentarius Commission, the Committee agreed to go back a step and circulate two alternative proposals for a footnote to the level of linolenic acid in the standards which would allow higher levels as long as three other tests were undertaken. One of these three tests would be that the campesterol level would need to be lower than 3.5% (normal allowable 4.0%) of total sterol composition. It then determined that if no agreement could be reached at the next session, the Committee would recommend the discontinuation of work on the level of linolenic acid.

Given the arguments, including those from the European Community, put forward by other delegations against the proposed changes to the standards, it is unlikely that proposed changes to campesterol levels will make any progress in the foreseeable future.

This creates a problem for those enterprises that have large volumes of olive oil from the Barnea variety in Australia which is high in campesterol. There is not enough low campesterol olive oil available locally to blend the level down to be within specification. The oil cannot be exported to countries that are signatories to Codex, and it cannot be refined as even after refining the campesterol level is likely to be out of specification for refined olive oil.

It would appear that the only option for unloading this high campesterol oil, which does not comply with international standards for olive oil, is to sell it on the local market as extra virgin olive oil as sanctioned within the Australian Olive Association Extra Virgin Olive Oil specifications.

The implication of this for other producers in Australia is that the prices for EVOO will be forced down as the large volume of non-compliant oil is sold off locally. There are also implications for New Zealand producers as standards for olive oil in Australia and New Zealand are set by Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ). The apparent acceptance of the sale of high campesterol oil by FSANZ may mean that cheap high campesterol oil may overflow into the New Zealand market from Australia.

Simon Field
Olive Business