Tuesday, August 24, 2010

UC Davis Olive Center Report on Olive Oil Quality May be the Subject of Intense Scrutiny

The recent report published by the UC Davis Olive Center on the quality of imported and local olive oils on sale in California in the USA may come under intense scrutiny.

Much of the scrutiny could occur during the court proceedings associated with a proposed class action brought by a collection of Californian food service individuals and enterprises against the suppliers and retailers selling the allegedly non-compliant olive oil.

The integrity of the process of collecting the oils for testing, sample retention, testing procedures and reporting could be put under the microscope by the defendant’s lawyers.

The Report questions the quality of extra virgin olive oils sold at some of the world’s biggest retailers, supplied by some of the world’s largest olive oil conglomerates.

Apart from the millions of dollars in compensation likely to be claimed, at stake is the reputation of well known brands and millions of dollars of wholesale and retail income. The USA imports substantially more olive oil than any country outside the European Union. It can be expected that the multi-nationals involved will defend the brands vigorously. Money to do this is unlikely to be a limitation.

On the other hand, the apparent Australian involvement in the Report, both by the use of standards promulgated by the Australian Olive Association (AOA) which are not part of the International Olive Council (IOC) Trade Standard for Olive Oil and Olive-Pomace Oil, and the Australian Oils Research Laboratory in conducting the testing, may be required to defend their actions. This could cost substantial legal fees, and even if a source of funding is available to do this, it will be major distraction to the AOA for the duration of the court action – which may be years.

The AOA is acknowledged on the first page of the Report ‘We value the leadership of Dr Richard Cantrill, technical director of the American Oil Chemists’ Society (AOCS); the advice of the AOCS Expert Panel on Olive Oil (particularly Bruce Golino, member of the board of directors of the California Olive Oil Council and Paul Miller, President of the Australian Olive Association)…….’. The AOA is mentioned 5 times in the report - it is unlikely that the association did not have prior knowledge of these references.

This begs the question as to why the AOA, which claims to be the peak body of the Australian olive industry, took the decision to implicate the industry by apparently giving overt support to testing in another country?

There are many other questions which should be asked: did the AOA have a mandate from its members to support testing in the USA; if not, who is going to pay for any costs resulting from the legal action; why confirmatory testing was not undertaken by a second IOC accredited laboratory in Europe; and why testing methods (DAGs and PPP) which have not been accepted by the IOC as reliable were used?

And one final question – what has the Australian olive industry gained from the whole exercise?