Laura Bliss is CityLab’s West Coast bureau chief. She also writes MapLab, a biweekly newsletter about maps (subscribe here). Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Atlantic, Los Angeles magazine, and beyond.
By proving its product is the real deal, the state hopes to gain ground in the European-dominated market.
"Extra Virgin Suicide" was one the New York Times' better headlines this past year—and if you were an importer of olive oil, a fairly inflammatory one. The story stacked up the many tiers of fraud regularly committed by European olive oil makers: Marking bottles as "Italian" when the oil was actually Spanish, Moroccan, or Tunisian; stamping "extra-virgin" on substandard product; and cutting olive oil with soybean and seed oils.
Still, European imports supplied virtually all of the 293,000 metric tons of olive oil consumed in the U.S. last year, as the L.A. Times reports.
But California olive oil makers want more of that share, and they'll use Europe's bad reputation against it to do so.
On Thursday, the California Department of Food and Agriculture voted to adopt new testing and labeling standards for high-yield California producers—standards that are all but non-existent for European brands. Starting September 26 of this year, producers of 5,000 gallons per year or more would be required to test their products for rancidity and adulteration. Labels like "light" and "pure" would also be dumped in favor of a more honest representation of the mixtures: "Refined olive oil."
"We believe the time has come to designate a ‘California-grown’ olive oil, and these standards are an excellent way to do it," Karen Ross, secretary of the state Department of Food and Agriculture, told the Times.
The E.U. and its importers aren't so pleased, though. Many see the rules as the sign of tighter trade restrictions to come—and perhaps as a reminder of the day California trumped France in a wine taste-off, changing that industry forever.