This is the second part of what was supposed to be a two part post. As I suspected, it will be longer than just two posts in order to vent all my frustrations adequately. My previous post in this series described my involvement in a meeting of the Grades and Standards Committee of the Olive Oil Commission of California on February 27, 2019. The goal was to adopt Health and Safety Code language into the Grade and Labeling Standards for California Olive Oil, which was done.
I would like to give a brief history of what has gone on in California in terms of trying to promote Californian oil and truth in labeling, at least from my perspective. The California Olive Oil Council (C.O.O.C.) really started this work in the late 90’s and there were a lot of people who pre-dated my involvement to whom I unfortunately cannot give credit as I was not there. I got involved in about 2003 and worked closely with people who really put a lot of effort into it like Dick Nielson at McEvoy Ranch, Alan Greene at California Olive Ranch, Albert Katz at Katz and Co., and Patty Darragh from the C.O.O.C.
At the time we were really fighting an uphill battle as no one knew about Californian olive oil nor was aware of the quality of the oil being produced. When I tried to sell our oil in New York, I got these puzzled responses that generally went something like, “What are you talking about? Olive oil comes from Italy”. Through a lot of tireless and often unrewarding work, by about 2013 we were starting to see producers sell out of their oil each year and a real premium was beginning to be established for California oil. Soon the Olive Oil Commission of California was created putting in place the most rigorous standards and mandatory testing procedures in the world. This process was largely driven by the big producers in the state in cooperation with the state department of agriculture.
Couple these efforts with a relentless barrage of bad press about adulterated foreign oil and demand really took off. Over the last 3 or 4 years, sourcing good California E.V.O.O. all year long began to be a problem as demand outstripped supply. Suddenly, all of those efforts to position Californian olive oil as a premium product paid off and producers could not keep up. The reason this is all relevant is as follows.
The meeting on 2/27/19 was in response to producers who had California or a place name in California in their product name but were selling imported oil. The concern was that consumers would not know, would not notice, or would be actively deceived into purchasing oil they thought was from California when it was not. What was particularly annoying to me was that producers who had led the way in establishing Californian oil as a premium product were now actively involved in selling imported oil that could easily be perceived as Californian, erasing the last two decades or more of work that had been done. Why would they do this? It seems to me that the answer is simple, greed.
I think the whole situation can be summed up in one brief exchange. The representative for one of the companies selling imported oil said that they were doing this strictly to replace the lost sales due to the crop failure. Another producer replied that they just sold less oil when theirs was a bad crop. The first company’s response to that was, “Well, we’re talking about very different situations here”. Both companies are millers, sell retail and bulk oil, and focus on the domestic market. The only difference in their situations that I could discern was one company chose to be honest and take a hit in revenues while the other company would not; let’s just say their concerns were elsewhere.
March 20, 2019