Olive oil producer pays infringement notices for extra virgin claims

18 May 2012

The Big Olive Company Pty Ltd has paid two infringement notices totalling $13,200 for labelling products as 'extra virgin olive oil' that the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission considers were not.

"The term 'extra virgin' is widely understood by consumers to mean a premium product. Consumers should be able to trust that what's on the label is what's in the bottle," ACCC chairman Rod Sims said.

"Misleading 'extra virgin' claims trick consumers into paying a premium for an inferior product. Traders who abuse the trust of Australian consumers in this way expose themselves to enforcement action."

The Big Olive Company is an Australian company that produces, bottles and supplies edible oil under a number of brand names including Oz Olio.

Between December 2010 and March 2011, The Big Olive Company supplied nearly three thousand 500ml bottles of "Oz Olio" oil with a representation of extra virgin olive oil on the front label.

Although there is no mandatory standard for extra virgin olive oil in Australia, it is widely accepted that it is the highest grade oil obtained from the first press of the best quality olives, that it is not blended with other oil and that there are no solvents or refining in the manufacturing process.

This action by the ACCC follows complaints from the Australian Olive Association that numerous oils being sold in Australia as extra virgin olive oil are not of this quality.

The ACCC commissioned independent testing of seven oils, including four imported products and three domestically produced products. The ACCC's investigation was focussed on identifying those products which were not extra virgin olive oil at the time of bottling.

The testing indicated that one batch of "Oz Olio" oil was not extra virgin olive oil because it contained more free fatty acids than permitted by olive oil trade standards, including the voluntary Australian standard. A high free fatty acid content indicates that the olives used to make the oil were old, damaged or otherwise of poor quality and the oil was not extra virgin olive oil at the time of bottling. The remaining oils tested all had free fatty acids within the requirements of the standards.

The ACCC is also considering broader concerns raised by the Australian Olive Association about extra virgin olive oil claims and the use of other descriptors of olive oil products. The ACCC has contacted the Association in relation to these matters with a view to further engagement about options that might ensure greater clarity in labelling and that consumers are able to make informed purchasing decisions. 

The payment of infringement notice penalties is not an admission of a contravention of the Australian Consumer Law. The ACCC can issue an infringement notice where it has reasonable grounds to believe a person has contravened certain consumer protection laws.

The infringement notices will be listed on the Public Register on the ACCC's website at www.accc.gov.au.

Release number: 
NR 098/12
ACCC Infocentre: 

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