In response to several olive oil mislabeling scandals over the past few years, the North American Olive Oil Association (NAOOA) has petitioned FDA to regulate virgin and extra-virgin olive oil, joining fellow trade organizations the American Olive Oils Producers Association (AOOPA) and Spanish producer Deoleo in the request.
A 2015 investigation by the National Consumers League found that six of 11 national brands had misrepresented quality grades to consumers, and a four-year audit revealed that 50 percent of olive oil did not meet international quality standards.
The petitions implore FDA to establish standards of identity for olive oil similar to those for tuna fish, mayonnaise, and other products. “Regulating olive oil to clearly define label terms and grades will empower consumers to make informed choices for their health,” Joseph R. Profaci, executive director of NAOOA, tells Food Quality & Safety. “Consumers need to know that health benefits can vary depending on a number of factors, some of which are related to the ‘grade.’”
This is the third time in the past 30 years that the trade association has petitioned the FDA to adopt an olive oil standard of identity, but so far, it has not happened.
“Over the past few decades, it seems FDA prioritized regulations based on consumer safety and risk, so regulating olive oil would not have been a high priority,” Profaci says. “In recent years, however, FDA’s focus has shifted to include regulations that facilitate healthy eating. The recent revamp of the nutrition facts panel is an example of this shift. So, we are optimistic this—our third time—will be the charm.”
The regulation proposed by the NAOOA is largely in-line with the most stringent international standards, but tougher in some respects to better ensure quality for consumers. “We hope that this time, FDA will recognize that there is a need for an olive oil standard of identity, and publish our proposed regulation for public comment so that all stakeholders might weigh-in,” Profaci adds. “We are proud that our proposal incorporates the latest widely accepted technologies, which would make it perhaps the strictest national standard in the world. But as olive oil science continually improves, Americans will be left behind if we have to wait another 30 years to update the standard.”