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Olive oil war heats up in Australia

By RJ Whitehead , 06-Dec-2013

Australian olive oil importers have taken the Australian Olive Association (AOA) to the competition watchdog over the industry body’s recent criticism towards olive oil imports. 

Earlier this week, the AOA launched a nationwide campaign saying that consumers buying imported olive oil were being duped at the checkout with up to nine out of 10 imported olive oils failing Australian standards and being labelled incorrectly.

It claimed that in its tests between September 2011 and August 2013, 77% of 106 imported oils representing 40 different brands failed the Australian Standard for olive oil. In addition, 93% of the brands tested failed the standard for at least one product of their brand range, it said.

“We have been lobbying for two years for imported olive oils to comply with the Australian Standard and now the AOA has taken the only option available by directly educating the public with this campaign,” said Lisa Rowntree, chief executive of the association.

Misleading and false, say importers

The advertising campaign features one of Australia’s prominent dieticians and states that Australian olive oil is “fresher, tastier and better for you”—something that the importers’ body, the Australian Olive Oil Association (AOOA), refutes and terms misleading.

In a complaint sent to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, the AOOA has said that all imported olive oil meets the International Olive Oil Council standard and the Codex Alimentarius, which cover more than 95% of the world's olive oil production.

“We strongly object to the self-interested and untruthful campaigning by the AOA, who are putting consumer choice at risk by using scare tactics and misleading information in an attempt to influence retailers and the government into adopting a standard for olive oil that was rejected by the International Olive Council,” the complaint said.

Standards are being met

“We feel that there are a number of inaccuracies in the campaign that has been launched by the AOA, which are significantly misleading to consumers and ultimately and not in the best interests of the industry,” said David Valmorbida, its president.

“They [the AOA] have been involved in active promotion against imported olive oils for some time now. But we do take issue when incorrect information is passed on to consumers because it is not in their best interests.”

Valmorbida said the AOA’s claim that Australian olive oils are fresher is untrue. Olives are only harvested once a year, in winter, therefore the freshest olive oil in the region is available on-shelf in July, while northern hemisphere olive oils are available in February, he said.

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