The vast majority of olive oils sold in the UK are accurately described on their labels and meet the rigorous specifications - laid down by the European Commission - for different grades of olive oil, according to a survey published today.
The survey is part of an ongoing surveillance programme, being conducted by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, which relates to food labelling and quality, rather than food safety. A range of products, labelled as extra virgin or virgin olive oil or as olive oil, was chemically analysed using European Commission methods, or their equivalents. Ninety-seven per cent of the samples tested were accurately described. Only three per cent of the retail samples failed to meet the Commission's specifications.
Food Safety Minister Jeff Rooker said today:
"This is a very good result, and I'm sure that consumers will be pleased to know that the vast majority of olive oil sold in the UK is labelled accurately. We are committed to ensuring that food products are clearly and accurately labelled. We are also committed to making surveys such as this publicly available, so that consumers can judge for themselves. The results are being published today in our latest Food Safety Information Bulletin. They are also on the MAFF website. This survey was not part of an enforcement exercise, but we have contacted those producers whose olive oils were found to be misdescribed so that they may improve their standards so that consumers are not misled."
The descriptions and definitions of the grades of olive oil which may be marketed within the European Community are contained in Council Regulations 356/92 and 1638/98. The chemical criteria which allow the different grades to be distinguished and authenticated are laid down in Commission Regulation 2568/91, most recently amended by Regulation 379/1999. Survey samples were collected in November and early December 1997 by eight local authorities in England and Wales.
The survey results cannot be used as evidence in a prosecution, as this was not an enforcement exercise. However, where mislabelled samples were found, enforcement authorities and suppliers have been informed so that they can consider what follow-up action is needed.