Olive oil in the EU
The European Union is the leading producer, consumer and exporter of olive oil.
The EU produces roughly 67% of the world’s olive oil. Around 4 million hectares, mainly in the EU Mediterranean countries, are dedicated to the cultivation of olives trees, combining traditional, intensive and super intensive groves.
Italy and Spain are the largest consumers of olive oil in the EU, with an annual consumption of around 500,000 tonnes each, while Greece has the biggest EU consumption per capita, with around 12 kg per person per year. In total, the EU accounts for around 53% of world consumption.
Eight different categories of olive oils and olive-pomace oils exist:
- extra-virgin olive oil,
- virgin olive oil,
- virgin lampante olive oil,
- refined olive oil,
- olive oil composed of refined olive oil and virgin olive oils,
- olive pomace oil,
- crude olive-pomace oil,
- refined olive pomace oil.
Not all categories can be sold to consumers; only extra-virgin olive oil, virgin olive oil, olive oil composed of refined olive oil and virgin olive oils and olive pomace oil can be purchased directly at retail level.
The European Commission has produced a factsheet with further details on the categories, characteristics and production of olive oil.
In terms of trade, the EU represents roughly 65% of world exports of olive oil. The main destinations for the EU’s olive oil are the United States, Brazil and Japan.
Within the EU, comprehensive market monitoring of olive oil is carried out to provide a diverse range of data on the olive oil market, including prices, balance sheets, production and trade figures, and information on the import quota for Tunisian olive oil.
EU marketing standards ensure that the market is supplied with agricultural products of a standardised and satisfactory quality to meet consumers’ expectations, to facilitate trade and to ensure a level playing field for EU producers. EU olive oil legislation defines the different categories of olive oils and olive-pomace oils as well as the relevant methods of analyses to be used by Member States control authorities, and provides rules for labelling and packaging.
Categories of olive oil
In order to be marketed under a certain category, the olive oil’s characteristics must respect the limits established for that category under EU rules. It is the responsibility of the operators and the EU Member States to ensure that this is the case.
The different categories of olive oils are graded according to quality parameters, relating to:
- physico-chemical characteristics, such as the acidity level, peroxide index, fatty acid content and sterols composition;
- organoleptic (sensory) characteristics, such as the fruitiness and the absence of organoleptic defects.
Virgin olive oils
There are three different categories of virgin olive oils
- Extra virgin olive oil is the category with the highest quality. From an organoleptic point of view, it has no defects and is fruity. Its acidity level must not exceed 0.8%.
- Virgin olive oil may have some sensory defects but at very low level. Its acidity must not exceed 2%.
- Lampante olive oil is a lower quality virgin olive oil with an acidity of more than 2%, with no fruity characteristics and substantial sensory defects. Lampante olive oil is not intended to be marketed at retail stage. It is refined or used for industrial purposes.
Other categories of olive oil
The following categories of olive oils are not virgin olive oils
- Refined olive oil is the product obtained after the refining of a defective virgin olive oil (lampante olive oil for instance). It is not intended to be marketed at retail stage. It has a degree of acidity up to 0.3%.
- Olive oil composed of refined olive oil and virgin olive oils is an oil resulting from the blending of refined olive oil with extra virgin and/or virgin olive oils. It has a degree of acidity up to 1%.
- Crude olive-pomace oil: the olive-pomace is the residual paste obtained after the oil is extracted from the olives. The oil obtained from that paste is called crude olive-pomace oil.
- Refined olive-pomace oil: crude olive-pomace oil can be refined and blended with virgin olive oils. The result of that blend is called refined olive-pomace oil. Its degree of acidity can be up to 1%
According to the legal framework, EU countries have to perform annually a minimum number of controls, proportionate to the volume of olive oil marketed in their country, to ensure that marketing standards for olive oils and olive-pomace oils are respected. Those controls aim to verify that the labelling and packaging are compliant to the legal requirements and that the category of the oil is conform to the declared category.
A study on the implementation of conformity checks in the EU’s olive oil sector, financed by the Commission, was published in October 2019.
The following elements are taken into consideration to define the number of conformity checks each EU country has to perform in order to monitor the quality of olive oil
- Export and consumption data: EU countries that produce olive oil (“producing Member States”) have to carry out more controls than EU countries that do not (“non-producing Member States”). Extra-virgin olive oil is the main category checked as it represents the biggest share of sales at EU retail level.
- Risk analysis: checks take into account risk factors, like features of the product (including category, period of production, packaging operations, storage, country of origin/destination, means of transport or volume of the lot), findings of previous checks, consumer complaints, or the characteristics of operators.
The conformity checks are not designed to represent the overall quality of olive oil on the European market. A non-conformity helps the authorities in EU countries identify potential flaws along the supply chain. Depending on the seriousness of the irregularity detected, EU countries take actions, including the withdrawal of the product from the market, imposing fines on operators, or even prosecution.
With a view of providing consumers with good quality olive oil in the EU, the Commission organises annual workshops and fosters collaboration between EU countries to ensure that these checks are correctly implemented.
Labelling checks ensure that the designation or trade name under which the latter can be sold to the consumer is compliant with the specific rules laid down in EU regulation 1308/2013 (Annex VII, part VIII), and in EU implementing regulation 29/2012.
Rules for optional labelling requirements relate for instance to the indication “first cold pressing”, “cold extraction”, organoleptic properties referring to taste and/or smell for extra virgin and virgin olive oils and the harvesting year (EU implementing regulation 29/2012).
Categorisation and grading
Commission regulation (EEC) 2568/91 sets out the characteristics of olive oils and olive-pomace oils and the relevant methods of analysis. This regulation establishes the limits for quality and purity parameters for each of olive oil and olive-pomace oil categories. It also defines the methods of analysis that have to be used when assessing the conformity of the oil with its declared category. Verification of compliance with such characteristics is to be determined through conformity checks performed by national competent authorities.
The regulation puts in place rules and methods for sampling products and determining quality and purity parameters. Tasting panels approved by EU countries must verify organoleptic characteristics of virgin olive oils.
Other types of controls
Besides controls that are specific to the olive oil sector, EU countries have to ensure that other legal requirements are respected. The general food law covers all stages of the production, processing and distribution of food. The general labelling rules ensure that consumers are not mislead regarding characteristics of oils (composition, quality, origin, category, method of production) and that labelling of olive oil is in accordance with general food labelling rules established in EU regulation 1169/2011.
International Olive Council
The EU is a member of the International Olive Council (IOC), an international intergovernmental organisation in the field of olive oil and table olives. It was set up in Madrid, Spain, in 1959.
Its current members include the leading international producers and exporters of olive oil and table olives. IOC Members account for 94% of world olive production, of which the EU accounts for almost 72%.
The Codex Alimentarius Commission develops and adopts food standards that serve as a reference for international food trade.
There is a specific standard for olive oils and olive pomace oils (CX-33-1981) setting up provisions regarding the description, essential composition and quality factors, labelling rules and methods of analysis and sampling.
The standard is currently under revision with the aim to harmonise existing national standards with the Codex standard.
Committees and expert groups
The committee for common organisation of agricultural markets meets regularly to discuss areas such as the evolution of market prices, production and trade in the EU and non-EU countries. The committee also assists the Commission when adopting implementing acts.
The civil dialogue group and working group on horticulture, olives and spirits allows the Commission to maintain a regular dialogue with stakeholders on all matters related to the olive sector.
The expert group for agricultural markets contains a subgroup of olive oil chemists, who assist the Commission in the preparation of legislation and the definition of policy definition regarding olive oil chemistry and standardisation. The subgroup is composed of representatives of national administrations and experts appointed in a personal capacity by the Commission.
Olive oil legislation
Legal bases on olive oil include legislation on marketing standards for olive oil, characteristics of olive oils and olive-pomace oils, producer organisations, support programmes, private storage, and price notification.
EU legislation regulates marketing standards for olive oils and olive-pomace oils.
- EU regulation 1308/2013 establishes a common organisation of the markets in agricultural products.
- EU implementing regulation 29/2012 addresses marketing standards for olive oil. This regulation foresees in particular rules on olive oil packaging and labelling (mandatory and optional requirements).
- Commission regulation (EEC) 2568/91 defines the specific characteristics applicable to each category. Verification of compliance with such characteristics is to be determined by performing specific methods of analysis. This regulation also defines control requirements for Member States control authorities.
The legislation on organic farming governs all areas of organic production and is based on a number of key principles, such as prohibition of the use of GMOs, limiting the use of herbicides and pesticides.
Producers of olive oils can apply for a registration under EU regulation 1151/2012 on quality systems for agricultural products and food to obtain a protected designation of origin or a protected geographical indication.
EU implementing regulation 1333/2013 determines the notification obligations within the common organisation of agricultural markets.
EU delegated regulation 2016/1238 lays down common rules for the granting of private storage aid for certain agricultural products.
Following important stocks at EU level as well as consecutive good harvests, creating an imbalance between supply and demand and a price decrease, the European Commission approved private storage aid for olive oil aimed at stabilising the market and increasing prices. The scheme operated through four tendering procedures, with the first one in November 2019 and the last one concluded in February 2020.
EU delegated regulation 611/2014 sets out the support programmes for the olive oil and table-olives sector.
EU implementing regulation 615/2014 outlines detailed rules in respect of work programmes to support the olive oil and table olives sectors.