Spain Tightens Regulations For Bottled Olive Oil

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Every morning, cafes here fill up with people enjoying a typical Spanish breakfast, including pouring olive oil out of a plain glass cruet onto a slice of toasted bread.

The traditional cruet, however, will be replaced by a labeled, sealed and nonreusable bottle or other type of container under stricter oil bottling rules that take effect on Wednesday.

Spain is the world’s largest producer of olive oil. The new regulations were created mainly to improve food hygiene. But oil producers also hope the rules will help them build stronger recognition for their brands and even bolster sales and exports to markets like the United States, where Spanish oil has played second fiddle to Italy’s.

Spain acted on its own after Germany and other North European countries, which consume but do not produce olive oil, blocked a proposal by the European Commission last spring to impose such legislation across the 28-nation European Union.

Northern countries said tougher rules would produce both additional costs and more waste, with used and half-empty bottles thrown out rather than reused. David Cameron, the British prime minister, also pilloried the regulatory plan as evidence of unnecessary interventionism by Brussels bureaucrats. Olive oil, Mr. Cameron claimed last May, is “exactly the sort of area that the European Union needs to get right out of, in my view.”

A similar debate has taken place within Spain. But it has been more subdued because the Madrid government clearly sided with oil producers, saying stricter rules would raise health safety, by guaranteeing the oil’s authenticity, as well as give consumers an opportunity to identify the quality and origin of their oil.

Producers have struggled to raise brand awareness among consumers — and hence the value of their product — even in the olive heartland of Andalusia, in southern Spain.

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