Frequently Asked Questions
What are the goals of the Olive Oil Commission of California?
The stated goals of the Olive Oil Commission of California are as follows:
- Ensuring the quality of olive oil produced in California;
- Enhancing the continued growth of olive oil production through greater consumer and trade confidence in the consistent, high quality of California olive oils;
- Providing the producers, handlers, buyers and consumers of California olive oil with reliable and trustworthy information concerning the quality and grade of the product; and
- Conducting olive oil research.
How does the Olive Oil Commission of California benefit consumers?
A multitude of well-documented research studies show that consumers are confused by olive oil labels. The OOCC benefits consumers by promoting labeling of California olive oil that is simple, clear and accurate. The OOCC grade and labeling standards require California producers to test olive oil through a mandatory sampling program administered by California Department of Food and Agriculture officials with sensory and chemical analysis provided by accredited third-party laboratories. In addition, OOCC handlers are required to sample and test olive oil themselves or through a private laboratory. OOCC standards require that labels on California olive oil provide a clear indication of quality and the verified grade. The goal is to allow consumers to make informed purchase choices for the health and flavor of their olive oil.
How does the Olive Oil Commission of California benefit olive oil producers?
The Olive Oil Commission of California works to ensure that California olive oil is trusted and valued. Through the development of science-based standards, enforcement of mandatory sampling and testing to ensure accurate labeling and by conducting much-needed production research, the OOCC supports olive oil farmers and assists them to successfully grow a sustainable healthy product that consumers can buy with confidence.
Why do Olive Oil Commission of California standards address only California produced olive oil?
Olive oil producers and governments around the world seem to agree that current standards for olive oil do not address mislabeling and fraud. But few agree on how the problem can be solved. While the California industry is too small to exert any control over world olive oil supplies, we can utilize the Olive Oil Commission to set a higher standard for ourselves. The new OOCC standards are designed to ensure that California olive oils meet or exceed comprehensive international standards for quality and purity. The OOCC standards are enforced by the California Department of Food and Agriculture and apply only to California olive oil producers making more than 5,000 gallons of olive oil per year. The standards do not apply to olive oils produced outside of the state or to small, local producers.
The program is designed to enhance compliance with the new standards among large and medium-sized producers throughout the state. Our desire is to determine if a better system can be developed to define olive oil quality and purity with labels that provide consumers simpler, clearer and more accurate information on which to base purchase decisions for their olive oil. We fully expect the program and its standards to continue to evolve and change as we learn more through research and practical experience. We may fail at times, but ultimately we hope to learn, adapt and share our successes.
How were the Olive Oil Commission of California standards developed?
New OOCC standards are the next step in the constant evolution of global olive oil standards. Initially, the new OOCC standards were developed through a series of meetings of the OOCC’s Grades and Labeling Standards Committee. These grades and standards were then recommended to the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA). CDFA held a public hearing on the standards on July 15, 2014 and subsequently approved implementation of the standards on September 18, 2014. These are available to the public and posted on the CDFA website. Under the Commission law, these standards may be updated each year. A summary and more detailed information about the current OOCC standards are also included in the About Our Grades and Standards section of this website.
The OOCC standards utilize proven research from around the world. For example, the OOCC standards incorporate measurements for pyropheophytin (PPP) and diacylglycerol (DAG ), which have been used in trade throughout Northern Europe since 2006. PPP and DAGs testing is commonly used by buyers in the olive oil trade because the tests are excellent indicators of the quality and age of the olive oil. The OOCC’s standards draw on the Australian Standard for olive oil and olive-pomace oil of 2011 (AS 5264-2011). South Africa is in the process of adopting a standard matching the Australian Standard.
What is the difference between Olive Oil Commission of California standards and those from other parts of the world?
New OOCC grade standards are not all that different from those which exist in other parts of the world. But there are a few unique differences. Unlike many olive oil standards – including the USDA standards for olive oil – which are voluntary, the OOCC standard is mandatory for California olive oil producers processing more than 5,000 gallons of olive oil per year. Secondly, the OOCC standard is more stringent than the USDA standard for a number of quality parameters for olive oil, especially its additional testing requirements for pyropheophytins (PPP) and diacylglycerols (DAG). In addition, the OOCC standards require sensory assessment not only for virgin olive oils, but all grades of California produced olive oil.
Can Olive Oil Commission of California standards be amended?
The OOCC standards are implemented by the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) as a seasonal regulation, so they are only made effective for one year at a time. At the beginning of each fiscal year, the OOCC will review and discuss any proposed changes to the standards through an open and transparent process. The OOCC will recommend standards for the upcoming season to CDFA. The recommendation can be to maintain standards from the previous season or a revised standard. After a standard is recommended by the Board, CDFA will need approximately 30 days to review the proposed standard and consider it for approval/implementation.
What is the difference between the COOC and the OOCC?
A voluntary organization of olive oil producers known as the California Olive Oil Council (COOC) has existed in various forms for over 20 years. Its primary purpose is to market and promote California olive oils with the mission of “encouraging the consumption of certified California extra virgin olive oil through education, outreach and communications.” Members of the organization may use the COOC certification seal on their olive oil products if they meet certain standards for quality.
The Olive Oil Commission of California (OOCC) was approved by producers of a majority of the state’s olive oil and signed into law by the state legislature in 2014. The OOCC operates with oversight from the California Department of Food and Agriculture and requires mandatory government sampling and testing of all California olive oils from producers whose volume exceeds 5,000 gallons per year. The goal of the OOCC is to develop improved standards for California olive oil and to enforce mandatory labeling laws. The OOCC funds research projects, but does not conduct marketing or promotional activities.
How much olive oil does California produce?
California currently supplies less than 3% of the olive oil consumed in the U.S. Countries with the largest production include Spain, Italy and Greece. U.S. producing states include California, Georgia, Arizona, Florida, Oregon and Texas. As demand for olive oil has increased dramatically since the 1990s, California’s olive oil acreage has grown. This growth has been aided in recent years by mechanical harvesters and high density plantings. In addition, because olive trees are drought tolerant, farmers have selected olives as an alternative crop to higher water use crops. According to the Agricultural Issues Center, University of California, production of olives for olive oil in California has increased from 5,000 tons of olives in 1999 to 74,000 tons of olives in 2012.
How do Olive Oil Commission of California standards impact small, local olive oil producers?
The OOCC standards are mandatory for California producers/handlers who process 5,000 or more gallons of olive oil from California produced olives annually. California’s small-scale olive producers and handlers who process less than 5,000 gallons per year may voluntarily participate in the OOCC sampling and testing program for a fee. To be sure the interests of smaller farmers and processors are considered, the OOCC has established an Advisory Committee composed of producers whose output is fewer than 5,000 gallons of olive oil per year. A list of Advisory Committee members can be found here.
Why was the Olive Oil Commission of California established as a Commission under CDFA?
California agricultural commodities have a long history of using mandated marketing programs to differentiate California products from others in quality, size and other attributes.
U.S. standards for grades of olive oil have existed since 1948 and were extensively revised in 2010. The USDA standard, however, is voluntary. California’s own olive oil standards were extensively revised in 2009 and, although they are mandatory, do not provide a component for enforcement. In 2012, in a special investigation of olive oil labeling, Congress found that “broad and mostly unenforced standards lead to adulterated and mislabeled product.” In an effort to remedy this problem, a segment of California olive oil producers petitioned the California state Legislature to establish the Olive Oil Commission of California with the objective of providing more stringent standards for California olive oil and a mechanism for enforcing them.
They opted to create the OOCC as a mandatory commodity program because the system offers several advantages. These programs can be established relatively quickly and they offer the ability to make minor amendments to standards provided the changes are vetted as part of a transparent process. The structure of these programs also allows for the use of independent, third-party government inspectors who can be utilized to collect samples on behalf of the OOCC.
Because these programs require approval by a vote of industry members, the OOCC could only be created with agreement among California olive oil producers who are encompassed by the program. Like other mandatory commodity programs, the OOCC programs are funded by assessments collected from growers who directly benefit from the program. No state general funds are used to support these programs, but they use the police power of the state to assess and collect funds from producers/handlers to operate.
The California Department of Food and Agriculture is charged with the oversight and auditing responsibilities to assure the OOCC is operating in accordance with the California Marketing Act of 1937 and that the program’s activities meet the legislative intent for the benefit of producers/handlers as well as for consumers.
What is the annual budget of the Olive Oil Commission of California and how are the funds being spent?
All funding for the program is provided by California growers of olives making more than 5,000 gallons of olive oil per year. The current assessment rate is 14 cents per gallon. Expenses for the 2016/17 fiscal year have been budgeted at just under $530,500 broken down as follows: $155,500 in operating and administrative costs; $95,00 for testing and sampling; $220,000 for research and $60,00 for industry outreach and communications. Any remaining assessment dollars not spent are carried over into the following fiscal year.
Why does the Olive Oil Commission of California send samples to Australia for testing?
The OOCC seeks bids each year for conducting its official analyses and selects the best candidate(s) available. As laboratories located in the U.S. gain experience and international accreditation in olive oil analysis there will be more domestic options. The OOCC evaluated proposals from accredited laboratories that could provide this service in a cost-effective and efficient manner. A well-respected and experienced government lab, the Australian Oils Research Laboratory (AORL) in New South Wales was selected to do both chemistry and sensory analysis for the OOCC.
What is the Olive Oil Commission of California doing about the impact of adulterated and mislabeled olive oil produced outside of California?
Nothing. The OOCC is focused on building the reliability and reputation of the California olive oil industry and its products in an effort to guarantee quality for consumers.
Do Olive Oil Commission of California standards have an impact on olive oil trading either within the state or outside?
The goal of the OOCC standards is not to disrupt existing olive oil trading practices either inside or outside the state. The objective is to empower consumers with more information about the kind of olive oil they are purchasing for various needs. Again, the new OOCC standards apply only to California olive oil and, as such, the scope of the effort is limited. Therefore, we do not anticipate a significant impact on olive oil trade for the time being, if ever.
How does a special standard only for California olive oil address the real issues of olive oil adulteration and mislabeling?
The OOCC hopes to demonstrate that a better quality standard will result in better product quality and greater consumer confidence when purchasing olive oils. If successful, the OOCC could lead by example with better consumer protection and information.