Inferior imports threaten Australian Olive Oil industry: Coulton
Federal Member for Parkes Mark Coulton has spoken in Parliament about the need for further regulation in the Olive Oil industry to ensure an appropriate standard of Olive Oil labelling which would benefit both producers and consumers.
Mr Coulton said that a significant number of imported olive oils are failing to comply with Australia’s national standard and that misleading labelling practices are affecting the viability of our domestic olive oil industry.
“The olive oil industry is quite large in my electorate of Parkes where in all the river valleys across this third of New South Wales there are olive groves. It is an emerging industry that over the last 25 or 30 years has gone from a standing start to being quite significant. Over the last couple of decades we have seen more than $1 billion invested in Australia in groves and milling plants.”
“Australians consume some 45 million litres of olive oil a year, and this is increasing. I understand that Australia is the second highest per capita consumer of olive oil and olive oil products after countries around the Mediterranean.”
Mr Coulton explained that of all mainstream oils, extra virgin olive oil is the only one that has not been physically or chemically changed.
“There has been no compulsion for olive oil to be identified appropriately. Olive oil is often labelled 'light', 'extra light' and 'pure' in an attempt to market an inferior product as comparable with extra virgin olive oil. What is necessary are certain guidelines that are easy to follow and easily identified by the public and the consumers. If these guidelines were regulated then it would be possible for inferior products to be pursued by the ACCC for misrepresentation.”
“There is an immediate need to set up regulations so that the Australian industry can compete on a level playing field with the competitors from overseas. This would also show inferior imports for exactly what they are.”
Unfortunately both producers and consumers are being negatively impacted by the current voluntary scheme of labelling standards Mr Coulton said.
“Unfortunately, cheap, inferior imports have undermined the price of high-quality olive oil. Farm-gate prices have been slashed by 50 per cent over the last four years despite substantial growth in the industry over the last 10 years. Australian growers have captured about 30 per cent of the market with a high-quality product competing unfairly in the same space with inferior, imported olive oils.”
“There are also health benefits to the Australian public having these standards in a more definite way. As it is now, consumers may purchase oils that might be refined and then labelled 'light', which can be mistaken as low fat. Clear labelling would enable consumers to understand exactly what they were buying. A study in 2008 showed that 84 per cent of imported extra virgin olive oil was not actually extra virgin. Eighteen per cent of all olive oil imported was shown to actually be lamp oil, and this is not considered fit for human consumption.”
“The industry has been working steadily to create voluntary standards, which is good. However, while ever these standards are voluntary, we will still have inferior products and incorrect labelling without any consideration for the ramifications of misleading consumers.”