New rules poured out for olive oil labeling

By Heather Hacking - Staff Writer,

Confusing and sometimes misleading labeling on olive oil packaging will be improved through new rules adopted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in April and due to be in place by October.

The new rules apply scientific standards for words such as "virgin" and "extra virgin," which are the highest quality.

Oroville olive oil producer Jamie Johansson of Lodestar Farms California Olive Oil, said the rules have been the goal for the past 15 years and will give "consumers greater confidence in what they are buying."

"It's a great thing for California olive oil and a great thing for importers who are shipping over quality oil," he said.

The enforcement will include a chemical analysis, as well as taste and smell tests.

State production of olive oil is only about 1 percent of the oil pressed in the world.

Locally, companies such as Johannson's and others are making a name for themselves.

The California Olive Ranch, based in Oroville with a production facility in Artois, began in 1998 with 500 acres and has expanded to 10,000 acres. At an economic conference in January, the company said it plans to continue to rapidly expand.

"Ten years ago, California olive oil was kind of a neat, little niche market that wasn't taken seriously as an economic generator in agriculture," Johansson said.

The California Olive Oil Council has had a program for quality testing since 2003, and was required before placing the COOC seal on bottles. The group has been asking USDA to adopt specific rules to disallow mislabeled or low-grade olive oil.

The last time the USDA visited the issue was right after World War II, when they graded olive oils with old-fashioned terms such as "choice" or "fancy," decades before California's olive oil industry took off.

Almost all U.S.-grown olive oil comes from California, and production expands about 20 percent per year.

Heather hacking can be reached at 896-7758 or The Associated Press contributed to this report.