Olive-oil win for NY pols

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WASHINGTON — Buy American olive oil? Fuhgeddaboudit!

New York lawmakers banded together to knock off a provision of a federal farm bill that would have subjected Italian and Greek olive oil to new fees and testing — a measure that gave their constituents a bad case of indigestion.

Rep. Michael Grimm (R-SI) helped engineer a lopsided vote on the House floor to strip the proposal last week — playing heavily to his Staten Island district’s Italian-American roots.

Grimm said the farm bill, as written, would have slapped a huge “tax,” known as a marketing order, on imported olive oil — a product that means a lot to his Staten Island constituents, along with a bevy of local shops, restaurants, and New York businesses that sell and distribute it.

He said the overseas industry also translates to local shipping and wholesale jobs.

“Italians and Greeks, we know our olive oil,” Grimm told The Post, mocking the torpedoed initiative. “I’m thinking like TSA-type guys dunking bread at the border and saying, ‘That tastes pretty good, let’s let that go.’ Are you kidding me?”

Grimm helped line up the National Italian American Council and a similar group of Greek Americans to back the imports — and helped organize an operation of lawmakers of Mediterranean stock to work the vote.

To kill the provision, New Yorkers had to do battle with California’s powerful delegation — the largest in Congress — which got the olive-oil provision inserted into the bill in the Agriculture Committee. The stakes were high, with costs of new fees estimated in the tens of millions. Nearly half the nation’s olive-oil imports come through New York.

“Prices are pretty high for olive oil as is,” said Joseph Ajello, who runs Pastosa, a third-generation Italian specialty store in Staten Island and Brooklyn.

“Additional tax on it really threatens to put us at a real competitive disadvantage.”

Italian-American California lawmakers, including Rep. John Garamendi and Rep. Doug LaMalfa, boiled over when the provision was nixed.

LaMalfa said without new inspections, “extra virgin” oil could end up anything but.

Maybe the label should say “extra rancid,” he sneered on the House floor.

Imports already have about 98 percent of the market and go through spot-checking instead of much more rigorous taste and chemical tests the feds would oversee, funded by the new tax.

By GEOFF EARLE Post Correspondent
Last Updated: 3:54 AM, June 24, 2013
Posted: 1:04 AM, June 24, 2013
New York Post

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