Dec 052014

2014 does not equal 2015This summer I was shopping for olive oil. I prefer buying US-grown extra virgin olive oil and ran out of all the latest US-harvested oils from 2013, and the 2014 US oils hadn’t been harvested yet. As is my habit I looked at the harvest dates on each bottle and noticed that one of the big California olive oil producers had a 2014 harvest date on all their labels.

I was surprised since I knew that this particular producer had not harvested in early 2014. I guessed that they had purchased some foreign olive oil that matched the taste profile of their oil and were reflecting the harvest date of the newer oil, or that it was just a mistake. It never occurred to me that something was wrong.

Earlier this year I read the new California Food and Agricultural Code section that created the state Olive Oil Commission. The Commission is comprised of olive oil producers and handlers who produce 5,000 gallons or more of olive oil in a period that extends from July 1st of a year through June 30th of the next year. Today I just reread that law before diving in to the subsequent rules and regulations promulgated under the auspices of the California Department of Food and Agriculture. These rules and regs were enacted on September 26 of this year.

Well! If what I am about to print isn’t just some sloppy legal drafting then it is an attempt to pull the wool over the eyes of consumers. Check it out.

The following is from the labeling section of the new rules and regulations for olive oil grade and labeling standards:

11.3.6 Year of Harvest. If reference is made to a harvest date, then 100% of the olives used to make the oil must have been harvested during that time period. Because the harvest typically runs from October through January, the dating refers to it by the calendar year; for example the 2014-2015 harvest season is deemed to be the 2015 harvest. When oils from multiple years are combined and the year of harvest is indicated the label must indicate each of the harvest years contained therein. If the month and year of harvest are indicated then 100% of the oil must be from that period. If the season and year are indicted then 100% of the oil must be from that period.

What this says ladies and gentlemen is that California producers of 5,000+ gallons of olive oil annually can claim that their entire harvest is from the next year even if they complete their harvest prior to the end of the year, as long as it’s within the season. What it also alludes to is that producers of less than 5,000 gallons of olive oil a year are out of luck since they are not actually subject to this law.

Considering the updated harvest labeling that showed up on the bottles of olive oil I mentioned above, this is not a mistake. It is deliberate, by one, some, or all. Therefore it is designed to hoodwink consumers. The next time I hear or read one of those 5,000+ California producers or handlers complain about the fraudulent practices of the Europeans and the US olive oil importers I won’t be very sympathetic.

I doubt the author of the original law, Senator Wolk, had this regulated result  in mind. Grab a pen, some redrafting is in order.

May the sun shine through your branches.

Jan 292014
I hope I get a good grade cuz I want to wear this great hat.

I hope I get a good grade cuz I want to wear this great hat.

Ever since returning from San Francisco where I attended the Italian National Olive Oil Tasting School (O.N.A.O.O.) mini-class I’ve been looking into different published sources on sensory and chemical evaluation of olive oil. Articles are abundant, but I’ve never before stumbled upon a U.S. student paper on the subject (more on the paper in a few paragraphs).

Olive oil quality and the health benefits of olive oil are definitely top issues these days. Not only do professionals disagree on many aspects surrounding what determines quality and health value, but the testing of quality and content are major battlegrounds. This lack of agreement and coordination, which is due to territoriality and money-making, causes confusion in the general population. Most certainly the losers in all this are the consumers of olive oil since they are being bombarded with a plethora of inaccurate, biased and sensational information ranging from ‘what constitutes extra virgin olive oil’ to ‘the higher the phenolic content the better the olive oil.’

A great example of the quality-confusion messaging comes from the New York Times in a slideshow entitled “Extra Virgin Suicide.” While the infographics are kind of cool they are also dangerously simplistic, using inaccurate and incorrect data to support the activities depicted in the final few slides.

Yes, some olive oil is adulterated (mixed with non-olive oils). Yes, olive oil from other countries is milled and then bottled in Italy. Yes, some extra virgin olive oils are mixed with inferior olive oils. No, the Italian police do not regularly raid refineries. No, the price of olive oil has little to do with any of the actions described in the slides, but is part of a complicated bigger picture.

There IS a problem with quality but there is a worse problem with correctly educating consumers and the general public. Why? Because you get the paper below, an example of what will pass into the world of publications to be found on the internet as facts regarding the health benefits of phenolic compounds in olive oil.

Yes, the phenols found in virgin olive oils provide health benefits in humans, but the only strong evidence involves eating unrefined olive oil in combination with certain foods, hence The Mediterranean Diet. The evidence that higher concentrations of phenolic compounds in olive oil are better for people does not exist (if there is such a study, I invite you to send it to me). What I found most interesting about this paper is the assumption that higher phenolic content equals greater sensory appeal and by default better health value.

Here is where I present the paper mentioned in the title. It is called Quality of Olive Oils Available Locally: Chemical, Sensory and Market Investigations and is by Madeleine M. Gould, a B.S. Nutrition student at the University of New Hampshire College of Life Sciences and Agriculture.

Abstract link

Paper link

After reading this paper I found that I could not fault the student for her assumptions since there is so much incorrect information out there. However, I do place blame elsewhere. I place it squarely on the shoulders of the scientists who fudge the data that places their ‘miracle’ food on grocery shelves. I blame the olive oil producer that sends tons of rotted fruit through the mill and instead of refining it and selling it as ordinary olive oil adds coloring agents. I blame the ambitious naifs whose conceit and greed leads them to blindly blunder about altering political and economic landscapes just enough to allow all those who wish ill to shove a foot in the door. I blame those who by action or inaction promote olive oil fraud.

May the sun shine through your branches.

Sep 112012

I was at the local “big box” store purchasing school supplies for my youngest son. While traversing the aisles I passed an angry man arguing with a sales clerk. “I want what I bought, damn it” he hollered. I feel your pain buddy, I thought.

Was this man’s sentiment reasonable? I didn’t know, yet without knowing the circumstances surrounding his complaint, I was immediately sympathetic. Why? Because this is how I feel each time I place an item in my shopping cart. I too want what I bought – damn it!

This morning I read an article from the National Journal entitled Why a Lobbying Fight Broke Out Over Olive Oil. It evoked in me that visceral acrimony most of us feel when we or those we care about are wronged. I felt cheated – again, by those same folks who are perpetually cheating us purchasers of olive oil.

Here’s the bulletized back story to the article from the National Journal.

  • Scientific evidence and sensory evaluation proved that both adulterated (fake) olive oil and low-quality olive oil are posing as extra virgin (an actual legal designation) and are currently residing on your grocery shelf.
  • This stuff, which is not what you or I paid for, is being sold around the world to unsuspecting consumers.
  • The sellers of this stuff are major companies who know what they are doing, why they are doing it, and don’t care.
  • These major companies exercise control by making up the voting and decision-making membership on most European regulatory, standards, and trade organizations.
  • They laugh at us while smoking their big cigars and sipping their grappa. You think I’m kidding? I’m not.
  • United States olive growers and extra virgin olive oil producers got mad and decided to take action against this organized mob by developing a set of voluntary standards for themselves. This set of standards is called a marketing order and it only applies to olive oil producers from the United States – no one else.
  • Who could object to a US industry’s desire to self-regulate for the benefit of consumers? The same creeps that are controlling the non-regulation, non-standards, non-enforcement in Europe, that’s who.
  • In the United States the “creeps” operate through the North American Olive Oil Association, a trade association for olive oil importers. Not all olive oil importers are bad guys, but Olive Crazy is throwing the baby out with the bath water. They know what their colleagues are up to.
  • When the US olive growers and olive oil producers decided to regulate themselves, the membership of the NAOOA launched an attack campaign and created another fakery. They set up a group called the Alliance for Olive Oil Quality Standards. A rose by any other name … Now substitute for ‘rose’ a word depicting the smelly product of digestive elimination … Yup, that’s what I mean.
  • The Alliance for Olive Oil Quality Standards spent $80,000.00 to hire a powerful, Washington DC lobbying firm to coerce, with dinners and campaign contributions, the members of the United States Congress to kill the US olive growers and olive oil producers attempt to regulate their own industry. Why?
  • They don’t want us to get what we bought.
  • Damn it!!!!!!!

If you are sick of not getting what you bought then please take the advice of this lowly olive and olive oil enthusiast/champion of consumers everywhere/champion of all producers of great olive oil, and buy your olive oil from olive oil producers in your own country. Folks that you have learned to know and trust. Here are three of my current favorites in the United States:

The Olive Press (California)

California Olive Ranch (California)

Georgia Olive Farms (Georgia). Please note, they have a small grove and are sold out, but will have more evoo available later this fall or in the early winter. It’s great and it goes fast.

May the sun shine through your branches.

Apr 132012

This past Wednesday, Adam Englehardt of California Olive Ranch gave a two-part presentation to members of the Georgia Olive Growers Association, some Florida growers, USDA employees, Congressional staffers, and other involved parties. The first part of the presentation was data to support the proposed marketing order and the second part was a section by section look at the order.

No, I’m not going to divulge any aspects of the actual marketing order. I am honor-bound not to do so and while that doesn’t mean much to some folks, it does to me.

What I am going to do is identify what I have determined is a fly in the ointment of the proposed US olive oil marketing order. The ‘fly’ is small and annoying right now but after feasting on distrust and resulting ill-will has the potential of tanking the marketing order. It makes me wonder – naivete or plan?

Prior to the presentation and meeting on Wednesday I had no opinion about the order. After reading the proposed marketing order and after considering the options and opportunities it presents for the United States olive industry I support the concept. The language is still rough and some crucial pieces are missing.

During Adam’s first presentation, I began to hear the fly. Throughout it the buzzing got louder and finally subsided when he launched into the marketing order section review. Then all of a sudden the buzzing started again and the fly began to furiously circle the room.

So Olive Crazy what does the fly represent? The fly is the niggle in the back of your brain. It is the hair standing up on your arms or the back of your neck. It is the bad omen. It is the sign of danger.

I have had and in some cases still enjoy successful careers in the military, politics, and business. Not only do I make sure I am well-educated in the areas in which I operate; can implement what I know at strategic and tactical levels; but I have great instincts and I trust them. The fly in this article is representing my instinct that some things aren’t adding up and these things, unless resolved now, will cause trouble.

Here are a few of those things:

  1. Spain is the largest exporter of olive oil in the world (not Italy – they’ve got a bottling scheme going on which makes people think they are).
  2. Spain is a charter member of the International Olive Council (IOC) which is controlled by olive oil mega corporations who have been identified as exporters of fake olive oil (seed oils masquerading as olive oil) and/or low-grade olive oil masquerading as extra virgin olive oil.
  3. Spanish investors started California Olive Ranch in the 1990s and still hold the reins.
  4. The California Olive Ranch is carrying the ball for the marketing order.
  5. The California Olive Ranch, with limited input, has created a national olive oil trade association, hired a lobbyist at the federal level, and have already commenced lobbying even though there is no record of lobbyist registration.
  6. A representative from Agromillora, Spain’s largest olive grower, was sitting in the room with us during Adam’s presentation.
  7. Adam Englehardt, who I genuinely like, claims to be politically naive, yet is making politically-sensitive decisions for an entire industry.

There are more items I could add to this list, my intention is not to sabotage the olive oil marketing order process but to alert United States olive oil stakeholders of pending problems, which can be fixed. The marketing order process is 10% business and 90% political. The 90% includes governmental, business, and personality driven politics. Strategic errors are being made which will destroy the best efforts of American olive growers and olive oil producers to enter, in any meaningful way, the global olive oil business, much less combat a cracking, but still powerful, Europe-based world olive oil trade.

If the market order process isn’t done properly the consumers of the world’s largest potential olive oil market, the east coast of the United States, will still have to buy price-altered, fake and low-quality imported olive oil, while US olive oil is relegated to the annals of agriculture as a quaint novelty.

May the sun shine through your branches.

Jan 012012

Lately I have been munching through several books at one time, including my daily diet of olive-related news articles. Most of the books I am reading are of the business, economics, and crime flavor. One of the books in this “meal” is Tom Mueller’s, Extra Virginity … a book I started the week after it was published and am still savoring.

Sometime last week I began to notice relationships among these books, specifically, relationships between business/criminal actions of the past centuries and business/criminal activities of the present. This morning I woke up with a theory. I went to the sources that gelled my idea to verify my understanding of the passages that lead me to that theory. I verified what I could and modified my thoughts a bit.

Here are the books and the article that stimulated my idea, in the order I read or am reading them:

  1. Elements of Shipping by Alan Edward Branch
  2. Paddy Whacked: The Untold Story of the Irish-American Gangster by T.J. English
  3. Sovena USA First Ever Lab to be Certified by International Olive Council in United States: Top Olive Oil Importer Becomes Only U.S. Company to Hold Certification published on December 5, 2011 on PR Newswire
  4. Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil by Tom Mueller also published on December 5, 2011
  5. The New Rules of Marketing & PR: How to Use Social Media, Online Video, Mobile Applications, Blogs, News Releases, and Viral Marketing to Reach Buyers Directly by David Meerman Scott
  6. The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine by Michael Lewis

Here is my theory:

The Mediterranean olive oil adulteration business/criminal activity is moving it’s main operations lock, stock, and bulk shipment to the United States.

I’m going to be kind of a jerk here and not explain how I arrived at my theory, instead I am going to provide you with a list of ingredients for this recipe for disaster. After you prepare this recipe tell me if it tastes the way I think it does.

Whisk together 5 books and 1 article. Slowly fold into this mixture 1 cup of boiling politics, 2 tablespoons of consumer ignorance, 1 dollop of soft regulatory environment, 1 loaf of potential-willing market torn into smaller pieces, and several million tons of “extra virgin olive oil”. Bake, sprinkle dish with 1 bag of EU economy crumbles, and serve. Mmmmmmmmm – nasty!

May the sun shine through your branches.