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US olive oil producers press for stricter import standards

WASHINGTON--European brands of olive oil are more popular with American shoppers than the U.S.-produced kind because they view the foreign version as cheaper and more authentic.

But U.S. producers contend that “extra virgin” olive oil from Europe may not be as pure as buyers think. They have asked the federal government to intervene by imposing stricter standards on the imports, which now make up 97 percent of the market.

Olive oil production is steadily growing, and the domestic industry says it has gone from 1 percent of the national olive oil market five years ago to 3 percent today. Most of that is in California, though there are smaller operations in Texas, Georgia and a few other states.

U.S. producers are seeking to build on that growth in a struggle reminiscent of the California wine industry's push to gain acceptance decades ago.

They've mounted an aggressive push in Washington, holding olive oil tastings for members of Congress and lobbying for stricter standards on imports. The strategy almost worked last year when industry-proposed language was included in a massive farm bill passed out of the House Agriculture Committee.

The provision backed by California lawmakers would have allowed the Agriculture Department to extend mandatory quality controls for the domestic industry to imports. The bill's language would have allowed government testing of domestic and imported olive oil to verify its labels.

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This photo taken Feb. 12 shows a card bearing a certification sticker for California olive oil displayed at the All Things Olive shop in Washington, D.C. It's a pressing matter for the tiny U.S olive oil industry. Shoppers are more often pouring European oil — it's cheaper and viewed as more authentic than the American competition. (AFP)

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