Extra virgin? US olive oil industry seeks greater government scrutiny of imports

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Need olive oil? American shoppers are more likely to pick a European brand, which is cheaper and viewed as more authentic than U.S. produced olive oil.

But U.S. producers contend that “extra virgin” olive oil from Europe may not be as pure as you think. They’ve asked the federal government to intervene by imposing stricter standards on the imports, which now make up 97 per cent of the market.

Olive oil production is steadily growing, and the domestic industry says it has gone from 1 per cent of the national olive oil market five years ago to 3 per cent today. Most of that is in California, though there are smaller operations in Texas, Georgia and a few other states.

U.S. producers are seeking to build on that growth in a struggle reminiscent of the California wine industry’s push to gain acceptance decades ago.

They’ve mounted an aggressive push in Washington, holding olive oil tastings for members of Congress and lobbying for stricter standards on imports. The strategy almost worked last year when industry-proposed language was included in a massive farm bill passed out of the House Agriculture Committee.

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