In the U.S., extra virgin olive oil standards are voluntary. These conditions make the industry ripe for fraud, producers say.
The olive oil industry wants more government oversight. On Monday, the American Olive Oil Producers Association (AOOPA) formally requested the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) set and enforce quality standards for different kinds of olive oil. In a citizens’ petition, it argued that the current dearth of industry regulation is causing “widespread mislabeling of grades, adulteration, consumer mistrust, and unfair and unethical industry business practices.”
“There is so much differentiation within the ‘extra virgin olive oil’ category that this grade fails to provide consumers with any benchmark for assessing quality or pricing,” the petition reads.
In general usage, extra virgin olive oil refers to the purest form of the oil, extracted directly from the fruit through pressing. Lower grades of the product—you might see them labeled simply as “virgin” or “refined”—undergo varying additional refinement processes, and they are typically allowed a higher acid content and the use of some additives. A related, cheaper product, called olive-pomace oil, is extracted by treating olive pulp with solvents—consider it the juice of leftovers. As an eater, you may be able to detect certain defects among these less-than-extra-virgin oils, particularly rancid odors.