The ACCC has said it is considering options to ensure greater clarity in labelling so that consumers are able to make informed purchasing decisions.
The authority issued two infringement notices totalling A$13,200 as it did not consider the firm’s product ‘Oz Olio’ to be true extra virgin olive oil.
Rod Sims, chairman of the ACCC, said that the term ‘extra virgin’ is “widely understood by consumers to mean a premium product.”
Therefore, “misleading ‘extra virgin’ claims trick consumers into paying a premium for an inferior product,” Sims said.
There is no mandatory standard for extra virgin olive oil in Australia but the ACCC said that it generally accepted as the highest grade oil – unrefined and not blended with other oils or solvents.
A voluntary standard implemented in July 2011 stipulates extra virgin olive oil must be free of smell and taste defects, with a free fatty acid level of less than 0.8%.
Fatty, blended inferior oil
The ACCC commissioned independent testing of seven oils – four imported and three domestically produced – in a bid to identify products which were not extra virgin olive oil at the time of bottling.
Tests indicated that the ‘Oz Olio’ batch contained more free fatty acids than permitted by the country’s voluntary trade standards, indicative that olives used were old, damaged or of poor quality, the ACCC detailed.
“Consumers should be able to trust that what’s on the label is what’s in the bottle,” Sims said.
“Traders who abuse the trust of Australian consumers in this way expose themselves to enforcement action,” he said.
The Big Olive Company supplied around 3,000 500ml bottles of ‘Oz Olio’ between December 2010 and March 2011 with a “representation of extra virgin olive oil on the front label,” the authority said.
Olive concerns previously raised
The Australian Olive Association (AOA) had submitted complaints earlier this year challenging the true quality of imported olive oil products being sold in the country.
It had analysed 30 imported olive products to test purity based on the voluntary Australian standards and found most labelled as extra virgin oils to be sunflower or canola oils instead.
The AOA said that most of these imported brands were being sold as cheaper alternatives to domestically produced olive oil at Coles and Woolworths. The ACCC action and vowed investigation is in light of these findings.