Though I'm as much caught up in the drones debate du jour as anyone here at OJ, there are
other pressing matters internationally, and one of them is olive oil. I've blogged about EVOO adulteration in the past year, but the current contretemps is different. EU regulators want to require that restaurants serve olive oil at the table in sealed individual servings (I guess a little bit like the little sealed catsup bottles one sometimes sees in restaurants in the USA) rather than the common practice of serving olive oil, for dipping bread or what-have-you, in little decanters. The concern is partly health and food safety, but it also appears to be a press by agricultural interests to force the use of labeled olive oil, which will presumably have the effect of pushing up consumer awareness (yes, if - big if - what's on the label is true), price (definitely), and quality (maybe, maybe not). So, as reported in the New York Times
a few days ago (it appears the rule has been shelved for now):
The measure, which would have required that restaurants serve olive oil in sealed, clearly labeled and nonreusable containers, was meant to guarantee hygiene, according to the European Commission, the union’s executive body, which originally drafted the rules. It said the labeling would ensure the quality and authenticity of olive oils and also offer suppliers an opportunity to promote brand awareness, backers said. And the measure stood to benefit European olive growers, mostly clustered around the Mediterranean, in some of the countries hardest hit by the crisis in the euro zone. Fifteen of the union’s 27 governments supported the rule, including the major producers, Italy, Greece, Spain and Portugal. Portugal has had similar measures in place since 2005. But governments in the non-olive-producing north, including Germany, were opposed. Britain abstained.
The pushback was on classic EU terms, I guess we could say: Complaints that this sort of thing should never reach the level of the EU, and that individual states could deal with this kind of thing on their own:
The reaction was severe. Prime Minister Mark Rutte of the Netherlands condemned the measure, calling it “too bizarre for words” and not at all green. Criticism was particularly harsh in Britain, often the first among critics of the European Union’s reach. The olive oil rule was “exactly the sort of area that the European Union needs to get right out of, in my view,” Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain said Wednesday after a meeting of the bloc’s leaders in Brussels. “It shouldn’t even be on the table,” he said, immediately begging forgiveness for the wordplay.
Food safety is only partly the issue; from the standpoint of Europe's olive oil producers, the much bigger issue is brand recognition and quality assurance - assuring quality and authenticity of olive oils served, which is also to say, raising the price. But here the EU runs into a quite different problem; restaurants refilling olive oil bottles with oils of lesser quality is the least of the concerns about EVOO authenticity and quality. I've blogged in the past about the surprising (at least to me as an international business transactions professor) fact of massive adulteration of "extra virgin olive oil" both inside the EU and in the global export market. It's adulterated with either lower grade olive oil, or else the oil itself is mostly low grade olive oil heated to take out the bad flavors (heated oil is essentially flavorless), or else different plant oils altogether (such as cottonseed oil. It overwhelmingly happens at the producer, wholesaler, or distributor level, before it leaves the EU; it's pretty clear that the supermarkets, even specialty store chains such as Whole Foods, whether in the US or Europe, have no idea that the product is not what it says.