Thank you for contacting the North American Olive Oil Association about your planned story related to olive oil. As you suggested, we reached out to the National Consumers League and after your initial deadline had passed they sent us a redacted laboratory report. A single, uncorroborated lab report does not provide enough information for additional comments beyond our original statement, which we reaffirm again here.
The International Olive Council (IOC) in Madrid, Spain maintains grading standards for olive oils which are the basis for the Codex standards in the World Trade Organization and also for the standards set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and several states in the U.S. The NAOOA’s members agree to adhere to these international standards and agree to random testing to check for compliance.
The NAOOA has been testing olive oil samples from the US market since 1991 and these tests affirm the overwhelming majority of olive oils for sale in the U.S. are authentic, quality olive oils that are properly labeled. The NAOOA typically tests between 100 to 200 samples each year at multiple laboratories accredited by the IOC to check for compliance with the global standards. Additionally, brands can participate in the NAOOA Quality Seal program*, which results in more frequent, random, off-the-shelf testing on an annual basis.
The NAOOA would recommend screening any suggested findings or conclusions by first ensuring you can sufficiently answer the following questions related to the fairness and integrity of any sampling and testing:
- Were samples collected randomly by an independent third party?
- Were samples submitted “blind” (in unmarked, unidentifiable bottles) to a laboratory/panel accredited by the IOC?
- Is the laboratory/panel affiliated with any of the brands tested or with the brands’ direct competitors?
- Did the lab/panel know the samples would be part of a public campaign?
- Did more than one lab/panel evaluate the samples and find the same results?
This is important for the organoleptic analysis in particular because different panels, especially those in different countries, can produce diverse results on the same oil
*The following brands currently participate in the NAOOA Seal program: 365, American Roland, Bertolli, Encanto, Iliada, Pompeian, Sclafani, Sol del Limari, Sprouts, Star, Whole Foods and Zoe
- Have all details of the testing and results been made available? Have the brands tested had an opportunity to check samples from the same lot by another IOC laboratory?
- Are retained reference samples available to independently verify the findings?
- Was the sampling and/or testing paid for or designed by any of the brands tested or by the brands’ direct competitors?
In recent years, the Australian Oils Research Laboratory has been used for organoleptic analysis in a number of publicity-generating reports in the U.S. even though independent testing was not able to confirm their results. AORL is used by the Australian Olive Association and the Olive Oil Commission of California to test locally-produced olive oils that are heavily promoted through these associations. As a reference, in the past three seasons the combined olive oil production of Australia and the United States (mainly California) averages 0.65% of total world olive oil production.
Extra Virgin Olive Oils are available at a range of price points and exhibit numerous flavor characteristics which may be basic or complex, similar to wines. Unlike wine, olive oil does not get better with time and must be stored properly to maintain its quality. This year, the Value for Money Olive Oil Competition will help consumers compare not just flavor, but health and performance of olive oils available in North America.
All grades of olive oil have proven health benefits compared to other cooking oils commonly used in North America. The primary health benefits come from the heart-healthy monounsaturated fat content which should replace saturated fat in the diet. The NAOOA has a number of online resources to help consumers buy and use olive oils that best fit their needs, including tip sheets and informational videos.