California has approved new quality standards for olive oil

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The proposal raised the ire of olive oil importers, who viewed the standards as a potential blueprint for market restrictions down the road.

Virtually all of the 293,000 metric tons of olive oil consumed in the U.S. last year originated from European countries such as Spain and Italy.

California has been chipping away at the imports, helping expand U.S. production to 10,000 metric tons last year, a 10-fold increase from 2007. Local producers say American olive oil has the potential to succeed in the same fashion as American wine.

Led by the state’s biggest brand, California Olive Ranch, local olive oil makers have been aggressively touting their products and bashing imports, which have been sullied by reports of fraud and adulteration within the European olive oil industry.

There are currently no federal laws strictly regulating olive oil in the U.S. The U.S. Department of Agriculture issues only voluntary certification for olive oil.

The new standards would add a new level of enforcement in California and call for testing that would look for evidence of adulteration or defects like rancidity.

It would also do away with popular marketing terms such as “light,” which describes oil that has been refined with chemicals or additives (not less caloric) and “pure,” a mixture of virgin and refined olive oils. Both would have to be labeled as some form of refined oil.

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