The olive oil manifesto
Formulated by DER FEINSCHMECKER and MERUM, the magazine for wine and olive oil from Italy (2006)
Extra virgin olive oil "should be a top product. It may only be obtained from olives by mechanical means and contain a maximum of 0.8% free fatty acids, as required by EU legislation. More than strange: According to the label, it is on German retail shelves - Almost only this most valuable olive oil is present; all qualities including the next three commercial classes ("virgin olive oil" with a maximum of 2% free fatty acids, "olive oil" as a mixture of virgin and refined olive oil or "olive pomace oil") do not seem to exist. Unbelievable price ranges from 3 euros to 20 euros for a 0.5 liter bottle of "extra virgin olive oil" unsettle consumers. Rightly so: fraudulent labeling in the oil business is regularly uncovered by sensory tests by FEINSCHMECKERS or the wine magazine MERUM, but also by new analysis methods (published for the first time in FEINSCHMECKER 5/2005 and 9/2005), which revealed unauthorized manipulation, especially with cheap discount oil. Existing laws are therefore not sufficient for real quality control. It is time that something finally changed! Our manifesto We are addressing the European Commission in Brussels and the International Olive Oil Council in Madrid (IOOC), calling on these authorities, which are decisive for European legislation, to tighten the existing control regimes for olive oil. Consumers in Europe have a right to do so to be protected from fraud as much as possible.
(1) HONESTY IN DISCLOSURE
We cannot accept that the food industry and bulk bottlers in particular are selling goods on a large scale under false names. Olive oil that does not match the sensory quality of "extra virgin olive oil" must be labeled as "virgin olive oil" and sold as such.
Voluntary downgrading to "virgin olive oil" would be an emphatic sign of strength and fairness on the part of the suppliers and would be positively received by consumers. Olive oil, on the other hand, that has been thermally treated for the purpose of eliminating defects, must be explicitly declared in the trade as simple "olive oil".
(2) TRANSPARENCY REGARDING THE ORIGIN
The designation "extra virgin olive oil" is reserved for the top class of olive oils. The consumer can therefore expect that the label will indicate the origin of the olives (country). Additional voluntary information from the manufacturer, such as the size of the olive grove or the olive varieties used , we say hello.
(3) SENSOR PANELS
In consumer countries like Germany in particular, more officially recognized tasting groups (panels) must be formed that are able to competently assess olive oils. Their members should be trained to identify and quantify sensory errors of an oil in accordance with regulations. The olive oil market is a global market, which is why the requirements for the individual quality categories must be harmonized across Europe. It must not - as before - happen that the same oil is classified as "extra virgin" in Spain and classified as "virgin" in Germany. The European authorities should regularly check the official national panels with Europe-wide ring tests (identical samples, central evaluation of the results) for their suitability.
(4) VINTAGE LIKE FOR WINE
"Extra virgin olive oil" is a perishable product. However, only a few manufacturers indicate the harvest year on the label. The exact information (such as "Winter 2005/6") on "extra virgin" bottles must be mandatory.
(5) INDICATION OF THE FILLING DATE
Today, a best before date ("best before") must be stated on every oil bottle. However, this is not always the same length because it is basically left to the discretion of the bottler. Much more useful and clear - in addition to the vintage - would also be the indication of the bottling date.
(6) INDICATION OF THE POLYPHENOLS
An important indicator of the quality of an olive oil are the polyphenols, plant substances of great nutritional and physiological importance. The polyphenols in milligrams per liter must be indicated on the label - always with the method of determination used and the date of analysis. Possible minimum values for "extra virgin olive oil" should also be considered; however, this still needs to be discussed extensively with international scientists.
(7) NEW ANALYSIS METHODS
The current EU laws provide for a long list of criteria that should help the chemist to determine the authenticity and correct designation of an olive oil - from the sum of the transisomeric fatty acids to the acid content and the peroxide number. However, counterfeiters can easily comply with the existing limit values by chemically or physically manipulating defective oils.
A chemist who adheres exclusively to the currently provided analysis criteria cannot accuse a manipulated cheap oil of any kind of counterfeiting. We call on the legislature to adapt the regulations to the current circumstances. For example, the German Society for Fat Science recommends introducing the determination of pyropheophytins (chlorophyll breakdown products) and 1,2- and 1,3-diglycerides as an official control method as proof of prohibited heat treatment. The verifiability of thermal treatment is intended to ensure that deodorized and refined olive oils - or those blended with such oils - can no longer be placed on the market as "extra virgin". Even if the EU has not yet officially recognized them, the new analysis methods should already applied.
Dr. Christian Gertz, Chemical Investigation Office, Hagen
Kersten Wetenkamp, editor of DER FEINSCHMECKER, Hamburg
Dr. Horst Schäfer-Schuchardt, author and journalist, Würzburg
Andreas März, Editor-in-Chief "Merum", Lamporecchio / ltaly