Governor Signs Senate Bill 634

Source: Caroline J. Beck
October 01, 2008

Olive Oil Definitions and Labeling Requirements Enacted into Law

On September 30, 2008, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed into law Senate Bill (SB) 634 to provide stronger support to domestic olive oil producers nationwide by giving further clarification and quality control over olive oil sold in the United States. In sum, the bill tightens current law regarding the definition of olive oil, including flavored oils, and creates five olive oil grades for labeling and marketing that conform with international standards.

The bill, which included amendment 2824, was sponsored by Senator Pat Wiggins (D - Santa Rosa) and supported by Assembly member Tom Berryhill (R 25th District). According to Senator Wiggins, "Olive oil is a rapidly growing industry in California, with volume projected to increase by 1000 percent in the next five years. California also produces 99.9% of the olive oil grown in the U.S., but state law does not define olive oil grades, and as a result the grades commonly seen on olive oil bottles - such as extra virgin - don't need to meet any standards," Wiggins said.

At a time when olive oil production and consumption in the United States has hit an all-time high, the new law finally gives regulatory weight to how olive oil is labeled and marketed and substance to quality control issues that have plagued the industry involving lower-grade oils fraudulently marketed as extra virgin.

"I was pleased to work with the olive oil industry to pass AB 2824 alongside SB 634 (Wiggins-D). Both bills will facilitate continued growth in California's vital olive oil industry," added Assembly member Berryhill.

Alan Greene, President of the Board of the California Olive Oil Council, was enthusiastic about the passage of the bill and what it will mean to the future of the olive oil industry. "The COOC and its members are delighted that Governor Schwarzenegger has signed this bill. It is a strong sign of support for California-grown products and is a positive step for customers that will clean up labeling issues that exist in the marketplace," said Greene.

"We are extremely grateful to Senator Pat Wiggins for taking on this issue and gaining strong bipartisan support in both houses. The technical help provided by Dan Flynn and the UC Davis Olive Center was invaluable as well. The passage of this bill will help the California olive oil grower compete on a national and world stage," Greene added.

The new law redefines olive oil to include only oil that is obtained solely from the fruit of the olive tree, without the use of solvents or re-esterification processes and excludes any mixture with oils derived of other kinds. It provides classifications for grades of olive oil including three categories of virgin olive oil: extra virgin olive oil, virgin olive oil, and ordinary virgin olive oil; as well as definitions for olive oil, refined olive oil, and olive-pomace oils.

The virgin olive oil definitions are classified by measurements of free acidity (expressed as oleic acid), peroxide levels, and sensory standards as determined by tasting panels certified by the International Olive Council. Many in the industry consider this landmark legislation key to the future success of olive oil growers and marketers in the U.S.

The next critical step in the quality control process will be in the hands of the USDA, which is currently developing a program to test olive oil for adulteration and set up an independent taste panel, which might be the only way to distinguish refined olive oil from extra virgin.

Full text of the bill and amendment

Caroline J. Beck is a food and wine writer and a columnist for the Santa Ynez Valley Journal. She divides her time between California and the shores of Lake Huron in Michigan. She began her career in strategic marketing for companies such as Apple Computer and Microsoft and went on to head up entrepreneurial adventures in the entertainment business for Sony. Her most recent past life included an olive ranch and a thriving business in olive oil and specialty foods. She can be reached at carolinejbeck@hotmail.com.

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