The IOC I am writing about is not the International Olympic Committee but the International Olive Council, which until recently was known as the International Olive Oil Council. Now try to keep all this straight – whew. The IOC is an organization located in Madrid, Spain that represents the interests of forty-three member countries (make sure when you go to the link you also select the link for European Union to see the rest of the members).
It’s mission statement reads:
“The International Olive Council is the world’s only international intergovernmental organisation in the field of olive oil and table olives. It was set up in Madrid, Spain, in 1959, (Note: It was actually started in 1956) under the auspices of the United Nations. It used to be known as the International Olive Oil Council or IOOC until 2006, when its name was changed. The Council is a decisive player in contributing to the sustainable and responsible development of olive growing and it serves as a world forum for discussing policymaking issues and tackling present and future challenges. It does so by:
- Encouraging international technical cooperation on research and development projects, training and the transfer of technology.
- Encouraging the expansion of international trade in olive oil and table olives, drawing up and updating product trade standards and improving quality.
- Enhancing the environmental impact of olive growing and the olive industry.
- Promoting world consumption of olive oil and table olives through innovative campaigns and action plans.
- Supplying clear, accurate information and statistics on the world olive and olive oil market.
- Enabling government representatives and experts to meet regularly to discuss problems and concerns and to fix priorities for IOC action.
- Working in close partnership with the private sector.”
In my article, Trials and Tribulations of California Olive Oil, I told the story of how California developed a thriving olive oil industry that was crushed by the major olive oil countries in Europe. It was crushed through protection schemes and enormous subsidies to the olive oil producers around the Mediterranean. It was within ten years after the end of WWII that the International Olive Oil Council was founded by France, Portugal, Italy, and Spain to protect their interests. They were then joined by The United Kingdom, Greece, and Belgium.
Even though the IOC mission statement and the information you can read about them on their website makes them appear to be a benevolent protector of all things olive. They are not. They are an organization that operates to protect some, but not all, of their member countries’ olive exports. Just look at the list of members I linked above. Only a handful of countries actually export olive oil, with Spain as the lead exporter in the entire world. Now think about most of the bottles of olive oil you see on your grocery shelf. Most of them say “Product of Italy”. Italy has a deal with the IOC countries to have the other countries send their oil to Italy and then have it mixed and/or bottled there and shipped on, with the worst oil sent to the United States. So much for the IOC’s fantastic standards.
Thanks to California, in 2005, on behalf of the U.S. consumer, they filed suit against Italy to place the country or countries of origin on the label of oil. California won, but frankly it isn’t enough. The IOC has deliberately blocked any action on making sure that consumers, whether U.S. or other, get real extra virgin olive oil.
Just this week, the California Olive Oil Council released its Report of Extra-Virgin Olive Oil Sold in California and it is damning. Let me just give you one of the findings in the Report:
“Of the ﬁve top-selling imported “extra virgin” olive oil brands in the United States, 73 percent of the samples failed the IOC sensory standards for extra virgin olive oils analyzed by two IOC-accredited sensory panels. The failure rate ranged from a high of 94 percent to a low of 56 percent depending on the brand and the panel. None of the Australian and California samples failed both sensory panels, while 11 percent of the top-selling premium Italian brand samples failed the two panels. Sensory defects are indicators that these samples are oxidized, of poor quality, and/or adulterated with cheaper reﬁned oils.”
With the support of the IOC, American consumers are being duped into paying inflated prices for inferior extra virgin and other olive oils. And all of this again after a huge world-wide adulteration ring operating under the noses of and I’m sure in cahoots with some of the IOC members was busted in 2007 and 2008. The U.S. made the first move to destroy the ring before the IOC members would even budge.
Now here’s the worst of it and what I call the “impending black cloud”. The Spanish Ambassador to the United States is lobbying Congress and the White House very, very, very hard to get the U.S. to join the IOC. This will be a death blow to the developing U.S. olive industry and will keep American consumers from ever having the chance to actually get what they paid for – forget buying locally grown, pure evoo.
So again, why is California helping Georgia with it’s olive industry? First of all because the east coast of the U.S. is key to sustaining a U.S. olive oil and table olive industry. The majority of the current and future olive oil market is the entire east coast. And secondly because Georgia is the only state that has any political clout. Georgia’s olive industry was started by and is being built by currently-elected and previously-serving politicians from both political parties in response to the Georgia’s need to find drought-resistant crops to replace crops with declining yields.
Now you have the whole story.
May the sun shine through your branches.