Italian law change could benefit Greek olive oil producers, traders

The Italian government is seeking to pass a bill forcing olive oil trading companies to state in detail the origin of their raw material, which would certainly benefit Greek producers who supply the Italian companies. This is the first time that the major manufacturers in Italy will have to reveal that most of the olive oil in Italy is actually Spanish, Tunisian or Greek. Italy is not only the biggest exporter of olive oil but also the biggest importer. Its annual production of 650,000 tons cannot even meet domestic demand. The Italian olive producers’ association (UNAPROL) estimates that just 20 percent of «Italian» olive oil actually comes from olives grown in Italy. Until recently, producers were allowed to label as «Italian» any olive oil that came from another country as long as it was blended in that Mediterranean country. «It’s a con, pure and simple, like selling Gucci which isn’t Gucci, or a Rolex which isn’t a Rolex,» Massimo Gargano, head of UNAPROL, told Reuters last week. However, the new draft law dictates that companies must write on labels where the olives are grown and where they are pressed. Of course, the European Commission may hamper the passing of the bill if it breaks EU law. The new regulation is expected to hurt the strong companies which usually trade olive oil blends using the image of Italy, while it could encourage Italian producers to sell Italian virgin olive oil at higher prices as a premium product. The amendment of Community law concerning olive oil labeling is also under examination at this stage in Brussels by the competent bodies. The 1019/2002 regulation provides for the labeling and trading of olive oil with the writing of the product’s origin being optional for extra virgin olive oil and virgin olive oil bottles, while it is forbidden to be written on blended olive oil bottles. Good news for Greeks Greek producers and manufacturers of olive oil are particularly in favor of writing the origin of olive oil on the label. «When this law was passed in the EU, we believed that the origin should be mentioned, but there was huge opposition from the industries,» said Panayiotis Karantonis, the director of the olive oil manufacturers’ association (ESVITE). The latest developments in Italy have made him optimistic as «Greek olive oil is one of the best, so the writing of the origin on the label would help us,» he suggested. The head of Elaiourgiki, one of the olive oil producers’ cooperatives, Manolis Gavalas, also expressed his support for the Italian bill: «Greek producers are the only ones who really want this, as our olive oil is 100 percent Greek,» he stated. The Greek olive oil industries, on the other hand, are much more reserved. The president of their association (SEVITEL), Grigoris Antoniadis, said: «We should not dream that the problem of Greek olive oil exports will be solved through that bill. We believe that it depends on how the EU views olive oil so that we could see it in the same way, too: Whether the EU sees it as a national or a European product. Unless the EU regulation changes we cannot talk about national initiatives.» As for amending EU legislation, he is not against the idea, but says that theory is one thing and practice quite another.