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Ensuring quality and authenticity

The International Olive Council is placed in a unique position as a forum for authoritative discussion on issues of relevant to the olive industry. Food & Beverage Industry News spoke with them to learn more.

The International Olive Council is placed in a unique position as a forum for authoritative discussion on issues relevant to the olive industry. Food & Beverage Industry News spoke with them to learn more.

The Council

The International Olive Council (IOC) is an intergovernmental organisation that brings together olive oil and table olive producing and consuming stakeholders.

One of their missions is to educate and illuminate consumers about the properties and potential benefits of
olive oil.

IOC also provides international standards for olive oil and table olives to encourage quality, facilitate trade and defend consumers rights.

Chemical scientists and olive experts from all member states meet twice every year to discuss methods, standardisation, and ways to improve the IOC’s scientific and methodological process.

IOC incoming executive director, Jaime Lillo, said that these discussions bring the best olive oil knowledge from around the world together in one place.

“This is crucial, when we have discussions on new parameters or new methods, it has to be validated, taking into account different oils from all different regions of the world,” said Lillo.

“We invite countries from all over the world to participate.

“When there is unity and consensus, then we can move on to decide. This is the way we facilitate our process.”

The IOC is currently working to induct more countries from around the globe, to ensure that all olive oil is reflected in international standards.

“That’s why we are here to better understand the specificities of Australian producers,” said Lillo.

“How can we work together, facilitate the dialogue, and positive discussion.

“We want to make our olive oil family bigger, more diverse, and we would also like to see the Australian sector become stronger and well connected to all international knowledge.”

While Australia is not currently a member a state, it still participates in the meetings as an observer.

It also participates in the proficiency testing of physico-chemical analysis laboratories, tasting panels and circular trials organised by the IOC.

The industry

The olive oil industry is steadily growing and becoming more popular among consumers worldwide. Since 1990, olive oil production has doubled.

In 2020-21, the IOC estimated that world olive oil production reached 3020500 tonnes, whereas world table olives production reached 2,838,500 tonnes.

Not only has there been significant growth in the global olive oil industry, but the Australian industry has also been steadily growing.

Australia’s largest olive farmer, Cobram Estate Olives Limited, estimated that in 2002, Australia’s olive oil production amounted to less than 1 million litres.

This production has exhibited consistent growth, increasing from over 2 million litres in 2004 to exceeding 20 million litres in 2013, accounting for slightly less than 1 per cent of the global average production during that period.

Moreover, there were about 1500 olive growers in Australia who owned over 35,000 hectares of planted olives (2013 estimate).

Currently, Victoria stands as the leading state in olive production, contributing to more than a quarter of the total planted area and over 60 per cent of the annual olive yield.

There is also great potential for further growth in the Australian olive oil industry, as demand for olive products increases.

In 1983, Australia’s olive oil consumption stood at 5,700 tonnes, a figure that surged to 17,200 tonnes
by 1993.

By 2013, this number had skyrocketed to approximately 45,000 tonnes, marking a 790 per cent increase in slightly over two decades.

Currently, Australia’s consumption exceeds twice its annual production, establishing it as the foremost per capita consumer of olive oil outside the Mediterranean region.


Whilst Australia’s olive oil industry is steadily growing, the country has different standards compared to
the IOC.

The IOC aims to provide harmonised global olive oil standards, which in-turn is ultimately beneficial for member states, producers, traders,
and consumers.

Moreover, the IOC wants to create a dialogue with Australian consumers and producers to suggest new standardisation based on collaborative research.

“We see that there are different kinds of standards in Australia, and this is something perfectly fine,” said Lillo.

“Every country has their own right to take their own decisions based on the best available knowledge or interest. However, full harmonisation for international trade provides added value for all and is not in conflict with national specifics.

“A better harmonisation of international standards would allow traders, producers, and consumers to have the same definitions, same parameters in this more global world of olive oil.

“Our interest is not to impose or to convince, rather, we wish to have a discussion based on science. What we truly provide is technical advice.”

Ideally, the IOC wants to ensure that any consumer will be guaranteed an authentic and positive experience when purchasing olive oil.

“It doesn’t matter where the consumer is, whether they are in Australia, Japan, China, Spain, or Italy. The quality must be right,” said Lillo.

“The oil must be right, according to the label. We need and we want to have this common language.”

Principal scientist and IOC expert, Dr. Wenceslao Moreda, said if a country has a particular problem with meeting the standard, new studies can
be conducted.

“If a technical parameter included in the standard is not within the limit, country can approach the IOC to perform a study, that normally takes three years to be to be sure that the change of the parameter is constant,” he said.

If there is no global standard on olive oil products, consumers can become at-risk of confusion, due to miss-labelling or variations in parameters.

Challenges for the industry

There are currently several challenges facing the olive oil industry, but most predominately, climate change and health perceptions.

“Climate change is not only an issue in Australia, but I would say that it is a global challenge, both for crop adaptation of new temperatures and lack of rains on one hand, but also contribution to mitigation,” said Lillo.

“Olive trees are capturing CO2 from the atmosphere and olive oil has a positive CO2 balance.”

“Last year, there was a very short production in Mediterranean countries, particularly Spain, Italy, and Morocco and Tunisia, which are the highest producers. We need more production from different parts of the world.”

Lillo said that the IOC is working on carbon balance in the olive sector as a part of the solution against
climate change.

He explained that scientific studies are providing more evidence on the health benefits of olive oil.

Not only can it prevent cardiovascular problems, but also cancer, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease
among others.

There is a Health Information System on the IOC website, where all scientific base knowledge relevant to olive oil and health can be found.

Lillo elaborated that the availability of information on olive oil products will in-turn determine consumer perceptions.

“Virgin and extra-virgin olive oils are essentially juices derived from fruit and are not only delicious, but they are the healthiest and most sustainable oils that are currently available, and there is an increasing number of Australian’s who are discovering that,” he said.

He added that with more member states in the IOC, the global olive oil industry will be better equipped to face these major challenges.

“We are here to understand, to listen, to create dialogue, to work scientifically, and to find solutions,” he said.

“If we can accomplish these things, we can grow together and we can face these major challenges more effectively.”

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