Ask anyone in the street the unqualified question, ‘Do you think a person should be a judge in a competition in which they have entered a product which they produced or have an interest in?’, the answer will invariably be no.
So why in many Australian olive oil competitions are there judges who are in this position?
The answers to this question most frequently given include ‘the best judges are chosen’ or ‘in a new and small industry there are not enough competent judges available’. Surely in the Australian olive industry, now about 15 years old, there are enough producers and users to fill a judging panel. And if there are not, the problem could be easily solved by the policy of not allowing judges to enter their own oils – they could still judge and there would be no disquiet about vested interests.
The fact that there is disquiet is confirmed by the recent article by presiding judge of the Australian National Extra Virgin Olive Oil Show published in the Olive Oil Times. The majority of the article is devoted to defending the use of judges associated with entries and describing the mechanism to minimise their influence on the result.
The article states that in the final judging for best on show the score sheets from judges with oils in the final selection are destroyed, thereby negating any influence they have on the final result.
In the 2009 Australian National Show, of the 26 judges who judged in the competition, 11 had entries in which they have an apparent interest. In the 5 extra virgin olive oil classes, two classes were won by oils which were associated with judges. Three judges had an association with the overall winner of the competition.
This means that at least 3 judging sheets were destroyed in the final judgement for best on show. If no judges’ sheets had to be destroyed because of interests in oils being judged, the result may well have been different – three independent judges would have had their scores included. The only conclusion can be that the destruction of judging sheets does have an influence on the final result.
It is in the best interest of the Australian Olive Industry to remove the perception of vested interests in olive oil competitions by adopting the policy that judges are not invited to judge if they enter an olive oil with which they have an association. Then it is their decision as to whether entering an oil or judging is more important.