The annual survey of Australian supermarket oils by the consumer magazine Choice is the first comprehensive independent test of the quality of Australian olive oils carrying the Australian Olive Association’s (AOA) ‘Australian Extra Virgin Olive Oil’ certification and brandmark’.
The survey had both good and bad news for the Australian olive industry. The good news was that of the top ten olive oils ranked on taste, nine were Australian. The bad news was that four Australian olive oil brands failed to meet the International Olive Council Trade Standard, and three of these were certified by the AOA as ‘Australian Extra Virgin’ and carried the AOA brandmark.
Over the last two years there have been numerous surveys of supermarket oils carried out at the instigation of the AOA as part of their campaign to persuade Australian consumers to buy locally produced extra virgin olive oil. These surveys have generally denigrated imported brands and lauded the local product – without publishing the full results of the testing.
Choice selected 28 brands of olive oil labelled ‘extra virgin’ and commissioned taste and chemical testing in accordance with the internationally recognised International Olive Oil Council’s ‘Trade Standard for Olive Oil and Olive-Pomace Oil’. The tests are designed to determine the quality and purity of the oil.
Twelve of the olive oils tested were Australian and for the first time the full results of the testing have been published. The first eight oils on the ‘taste’ ranking were Australian showing that in general the local oils were fresher. Of these, five carried the Australian Extra Virgin Brand.
The AOA claims on its website ; ‘The Association has recently introduced a Code of Practice which will guarantee the authenticity and quality of certified products and distinguish them from imported products. To be certified, products must be Australian and have undergone organoleptic (taste) and chemical testings’.
The report in Choice (www.Choice.com.au) claims that ‘to be certified (under the AOA brand) products must be Australian and meet internationally accepted specifications as determined by organoleptic (sensory) and chemical testing’.
This is not correct, the AOA certification requires no testing for purity which would detect adulteration or contamination and the organoleptic testing requirement does not meet the IOC panel testing criteria.
Because of this, unfortunately for the AOA Brand, three (37.5%) of the oils certified Australian Extra Virgin failed to meet the IOC testing regime on which the survey was based. On the taste test, one of the AOA certified oils was described as tired and another with fermentation present.
Consumers can justifiably expect 100% compliance for AOA certified brands, given the AOA guarantee.
Subsequently Standards Australia has announced that it has established a committee to develop a new Australian Standard for all classifications of olive oil.
The committee membership includes representatives from both Australia and New Zealand covering retailers, importers, growers, government and consumers.
The standards developed by the committee will not be mandatory unless mandated by government.
Let’s hope that the committee develops olive oil standards that are based on the IOC International Trade Standard and treat all olive oils equitably, whether locally produced or imported. These standards should then mandated and enforced by the relevant government departments in Australia and New Zealand.