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Olive Oil and Food Standards

By Mark Dymiotis
To: Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ)

I wish to make reference to FSANZ’s email of 7 April 2017 and the statement therein that:

There is no specific olive oil standard in the Code

It is this statement that forms the crux of the issue. Presently the Standard appears to best
cater for industrially-produced, highly-refined seed (vegetable) oils and it is devoid of
referencing olive oil’s unique nutritional and other benefits. While the content of triglycerides
and diglycerides expected in an oil are covered in the Standard 2.4.1-2 (Definitions) the
polyphenols of olive oil are not. Evidently, olive oil deserves special recognition.

Key components that the Standard overlooks:

  • Olive oil, being a fruit oil, is rich in strong anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidative
    polyphenols and other compounds, with the extra benefit of extending the olive oil’s
    storage life.
  • Extra health benefits come from the nutrient-rich plant foods of the Mediterranean
    diet that are uniquely flavoured by olive oil; noting that this diet (prior to the 1960s)
    was identified as healthy and protective against disease. When health professionals
    recommend olive oil they expect consumers to obtain such benefits.
  • Seed oils are in the main produced industrially and refined, are rich in less stable
    polyunsaturated fatty acids and are protected instead by synthetic antioxidants.

Velasco and Dobarganes summarise and support these points:

Virgin olive oil, one of the few oils being consumed without any chemical
treatment, has a high resistance to oxidative deterioration mainly due to its
fatty acid composition characterised by a high monounsaturated-topolyunsaturated
fatty acid ratio and a pool of minor compounds of
powerful antioxidant activity among which polyphenols stand out.*

Contrary to FSANZ’s recommendations that labels should not “misinform consumers through
false, misleading or deceptive representations” and that “foods must be labelled with an
accurate name or description that indicates the true nature of the food”, modern consumers, in
the absence of an olive oil standard, are misled by confusing terminology, false labelling and
deceptive marketing.

Traditionally, olive oil was treated as a simple fruit juice. Its quality was evaluated by taste
and smell; if it was rancid, it was used as fuel. Only one type of olive oil was available and
was used generously in cooking, frying and salads. Also simple was the traditional
Mediterranean diet. The hard work was in the food production.

Compare this with current misinformation and confusion:

  1. Astonishingly, the generic name olive oil is officially reserved for a blend of at least
    70% refined olive oil with the balance being virgin olive oil to restore some colour,
    odour and taste. Worse, this blended olive oil is misleadingly and unethically
    marketed with terms such as pure, genuine, natural, light, extra light and 100%.
  2. Strangely, the millennial-old olive oil is now officially named ‘virgin’ olive oil and
    comes with three sub-categories – extra, fine and semi-fine.
  3. Despite such anomalies, there is a perfectionism for best, greenest and freshest olive
    oils ignoring that: even the ‘best’ olive oils are nowadays compromised by
    polyphenol-reducing practices; greener olive oils are more vulnerable to photooxidation
    and costly to produce; and, olive oil is produced only once a year and
    traditionally was stored for a few weeks even months to soften its bitterness and to
    naturally lose its initial cloudiness which indicates freshness and longer storage life.
    Cloudiness is now removed by the polyphenol-reducing filtering.
  4. Paradoxically, unlike earlier practices where the limited use of water downgraded the
    olive oil to second press, the modern customary use of water and the filtering are
    legitimised. Even the best prize-winning virgin olive oils are now subjected to these
    polyphenol-reducing practices.
  5. Further, the introduction of the subjective by nature organoleptic (taste) evaluation
    favours strong tasting olive oils and has added needless production costs.
  6. Although the historic cold press extraction system has been virtually side-lined by the
    centrifugation process the term ‘cold-pressed’ is still incorrectly and deceitfully used
    by the industry. Additionally, such naming is unfair to the very few genuine producers
    of cold-pressed olive oil. A more appropriate term would be ‘cold-extracted’, if
    indeed the olive oil has been produced under these conditions.
  7. From a humble everyday food olive oil has been elevated to a celebrity status, with
    unaffordable prices for the Mediterranean everyday diet that requires generous
    quantities of olive oil to flavour plant foods – a major component of this diet.

Simplicity, good flavour, easy preparation and low cost are essential prerequisites for a
successful diet. As demonstrated by the Mediterranean diet, olive oil fulfils these criteria. A
well-defined and implemented olive oil Standard would address modern anomalies.

I call upon FSANZ to take leadership ahead of its European counterparts and apply linguistic
standards by restoring the historic generic name ‘olive oil’ to its former status and to include
it into its Code with a specific reference to olive oil as: a naturally produced olive fruit
juice extracted from optimum maturation-point olives without interference to its
natural characteristics i.e. nutrient reduction or chemical contamination.

Such olive oil, with its nutritional value, flavour-enhancing properties and long storage life
can help to improve our health and protect the environment. In particular, it can help in:

  • Boosting plant food consumption.
  • Making home food preparation easier thus providing a low cost and flavoursome
    alternative to fast, highly refined and animal-derived foods.

For more information consult the originally submitted paper Olive Oil: Facts and Fallacies.

* Velasco, J., & Dobarganes, C. (2002). Oxidative stability of virgin olive oil. European Journal of Lipid Science and Technology, 104, P661.

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The traditional Mediterranean Diet

The traditional Mediterranean diet (i.e. the diet of this region before the 1960’s) is promoted as healthy and protective against disease. The Greek diet is regarded as the prototype Mediterranean diet. Traditionally, due to their dietary and lifestyle practices, the Greeks have very good health and life expectancy – without an expensive health care system. In Greece, the people of the island of Crete have a better health record and perhaps not surprisingly, the highest consumption of olive oil (25 litres per capita) in the world.

The Greek traditional diet is based largely on fresh, unprocessed seasonal plant foods. It is low in saturated fat and high in dietary fibre, starch, antioxidant vitamins (from cereals, fruit and vegetables) and polyphenols (from wine and olive oil).