California produces about four percent of the world’s olive oil and a new law establishes regulations on how the name “California” can be used on olive oil labeling.
AB535 was authored by Assemblymember Cecilia Aguiar-Curry (D-Winters) and signed into law by Governor Gavin Newsom earlier this month. The “truth in advertising” law requires that companies marketing and labeling olive oil products accurately disclose the percentage of olives from California in their containers.
Because of an increase in demand for California olive oils, some companies have reportedly sold their blended products derived from only a minimum of California olives as “California” olive oil. Similarly, the law prohibits representations that an olive oil was produced from a specific region of California unless at least 85 percent of the olive oil was produced from olives grown in that region.
“Consumers look for California-grown foods because they associate California with quality. Allowing companies to trick consumers into thinking they’re buying a California product because they slap ‘California’ on their package undercuts everything we’re trying to accomplish as a State,” said Aguiar-Curry in a statement.
About 10 years ago, UC Davis conducted research and published two reports on supermarket olive oils finding that upward of 70 percent of imported olive oils were not what they were labeled, said Shirley Li, assistant director of the UC Davis Olive Center.
The new law does not prohibit blending olive oils with other edible oils, but mandates clear labeling of the product for what it is, such as imitation olive oil or blended vegetable oil with the percentages of the blend prominently presented on the label.
Aguiar-Curry contends that the new law will strengthen existing law by making it illegal to make false representation that an olive oil is produced entirely with or that it contains California grown olives.
Although the legislation received support from the industry, a coalition of olive oil farmers, millers and retailers voiced opposition to AB535 and suggested amendments to Aguiar-Curry.
Michael Fox, CEO for California Olive Ranch, said that as the largest producer of olive oils in California they did have concerns with AB535. “California” is a part of their trademarked name, so it wouldn’t have been easy to rename the company when selling blended oils.
Compromises were reached with Aguiar-Curry that “both sides could live with,” Fox told the Express.
The company will be changing their labels by Dec. 31 as the new law takes effect and they will also update their label, add a QR embedded code so consumers can scan and learn more about the particular oil, its source, chemistry, harvesting and health benefits.
Helen McCloskey, whose Rumsey Farms produces organic extra virgin olive oil in Capay Valley, said of the law, “From what I have read the committees of jurisdiction reached compromises in the labeling of olive oil, including font sizes, as to the origin of the oil, that were acceptable to the factions involved. As a small producer of 100 percent California-grown olive oil, I think the outcome was acceptable.”