When you read the history of the US/California olive industry, it is a multi-century saga of small successes followed by big defeats. These defeats are frequently politically-motivated and are not made by foreign governments, but by the US government and both dominant US political parties. Here are three examples:
Beating # 1. After World War II, the US was positioned to be the world leader in olive oil and table olive production. The reason was that the war-devastated, Mediterranean, olive-producing countries could not produce sufficient fruit to satisfy the world market at that time. In a short-sighted series of blunders, Presidents Truman (D) and Eisenhower (R) and their Congresses (D and R), gave world-wide authority to the newly formed United Nations, and blessed the subsidization of olive oil by the European countries that formed their price-control cabal, the International Olive Oil Council n/k/a International Olive Council (IOC).
Beating # 2. It’s 2008 and the olive fruit fly is plaguing the revived, US olive industry. The pest, which rarely gets out-of-control in Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa, has found a happy home in California and is busily munching away. US olive industry revival stands to take a huge hit. US Congressman Mike Thomas (D) asks for money in the Congressional budget to conduct scientific research on the olive fruit fly (this is normal procedure for all Members of Congress). Alaska Governor Sarah Palin (R) is running for US Vice President and attacks this and other scientific, research projects as pork barrel spending. Democrats and Republicans alike jump on the band wagon and the fruit fly munches on.
Beating # 3. Now, in 2011, the “Arab Spring” revolutions are slowly winding down. Again, US politicians are ignorantly taking another swing at the suffering US olive industry. The current President (D) and Congress (R) are planning on propping up another country’s olive industry to the possible damage of their own. Here is an important article, a must-read by Stacy Finz of the San Francisco Chronicle: “U.S. aid to Morocco worries California olive farmers“.
Who’s to blame for US political ignorance about it’s own olive industry? Get ready – the US olive industry is to blame. There is no organized US effort to educate and lobby Congress. Sure, the small, thinly-stretched, olive-knowledgeable, California, academic population tries to make a go at this, but their attempts only highlight the olive industry’s failure to establish itself as a “force” in the real center of US political power, Washington, DC. The US olive industry, without a strong national organization ready to behave as the “power broker” it should be, is just another industry marketing a boutique fruit. California may be the place where most of the trees and knowledge are, but it has consistently shown it is not the place where political power develops.
International, commercial olive production is expanding rapidly. The Mediterranean basin olive-producing countries are weak, but are fighting hard to expand into new territories and revive old markets. All this is going on while the US olive industry focuses on its navel and weeps fat, briny tears of self pity. I have no patience for this display. If the US olive industry is unwilling to put up the money necessary to create a real organization, lobby Congress, and market their product in this country, which happens to be the largest potential market for olive oil specifically (the IOC knows this), then they deserve to sputter along for another couple hundred years tagged as a perpetually-emerging market.
Power broker or hobbyist – you decide.
May the sun shine through your branches.