April 02, 2003
Bruce Cohn hosted a beautifully catered lunch under the lofty Picholine olive trees at his Glen Ellen Winery March 30. Members were able to swap this year's oil production stories over neuvo oil donated by attending producers. The excellent wines and temperate weather was also courtesy BR Cohn.
After the food and socializing President Albert Katz introduced Patricia Darragh as the new Executive director and went over the year's achievements. The COOC sponsored a booth manned by member producers at its first National Association for the Specialty Food Trade (NASFT) show, gaining exposure to the over 10,000 food retailers who attended. Many producers have reported follow-up orders and interest.
The COOC also gave a Sensory Evaluation of Olive Oil class for retailers. They were challenged to go back to their store shelves, taste the oil on them and then toss out and refuse to carry the 50% of the oils which are of inferior quality. The seminar was such as success that NASFT has invited the COOC to give the seminar at the New York Fancy Food show.
Board members Bruce Golino and Tom Sloan were credited for revising the seal agreement. It had been noted that a tired tasting oil with a very old (1999) but undated COOC seal was seen being sold at a high discount in Northern California stores. The seal now carries a date and there are mechanisms for better enforcing the seal agreement.
Albert recognized public relations officer Leslie Newman for recent press releases and Sue Ellery, Patricia and others for their work on the website. Greg Reisinger and Ridgley Evers have worked on the website and label enforcement issues.
Guest Kimberly Stewart, a food writer, spoke about her recent article in Better Nutrition magazine about fraud in the olive oil industry. She cited the successful class action suit in the New York Supreme court against Unilever, manufacturer of Bertolli olive oil. They labeled the oil as "Imported from Italy" when the oil was actually Tunisian, Turkish, or Spanish oil just passing through Italian ports. She also talked about recent difficulties in detecting olive oils watered down with cheap hazelnut oil. Because of its similarity spectrographically, it is difficult to detect this type of tampering. The Middle East press recently reported that Turkey's largest oil producer, LIO, was found guilty of tampering with ship manifests, currently the most common type of fraud occurring. Olive and hazelnut blended oils were shipped to Argentina and Brazil. Somewhere in mid-Atlantic the blend changed into olive oil. Click for full article
A heated question and answer period ensued. President Katz related receiving legal threats against the COOC for exposing questionable practices here in California where oil improperly labeled as from California violated SB 920 which deals with appellation. COOC legal liaison Tom Sloan clarified the COOC position on these issues.
Seventy oils have been submitted for approval under the COOC seal program, a record number.
U.C extension olive expert Paul Vossen spoke about the olive fly, and plans a "Spanish Experience Day" around June 1 to talk about his year in Cordoba. He related how the COOC seal program in California mirrors efforts in Europe to create stricter labeling through Italian DOP or Spanish DO initialisms. He also urged growers to lobby their representatives to keep funding for the extension program during the current state budget shortfall.