Overview of Olive Oil Production in the European Union

The European Union is the leading producer, consumer and exporter of olive oil. Since 2013, on average the EU produced 68.4%, consumed 54.2% and exported 66.9% of the world’s olive oil.

The EU is a member of the international olive council, which was set up in 1959 to administer the succession of international commodity agreements concluded over the past 50 years to support and promote olive growing, olive oil and table olives. The international olive council members account for almost 98% of the world production of olive oil. Nearly all the Mediterranean countries and, in addition, Argentina, Uruguay, Iran and Jordan participate in the agreement.

EU marketing standards are a set of rules to 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.

At EU level, marketing standards for olive oils and olive-pomace oils are regulated by

  • EU regulation 1308/2013 – establishing a common organisation of the markets in agricultural products
  • EU implementing regulation 29/2012 – marketing standards for olive oil. This regulation foresees in particular rules on olive oil packaging and labelling (mandatory and optional requirements)
  • EEC Commission regulation 2568/91 – the characteristics of olive oil and olive-pomace oil and on 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.

Conformity Checks

According to the legal framework, EU countries have to perform a minimum number of controls, proportionate to the volume of olive oil marketed in their country, to ensure that marketing standards for olive oil and olive-pomace oils are respected. Those controls aim to verify that the labelling is compliant to the legal requirements and that the category of the oil is conform to the declared category.

Labelling Checks

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, for example extra virgin olive oil, virgin olive oil, olive oil composed of refined and virgin olive oils and olive-pomace oil.

Checks also ensure that mandatory requirements are fulfilled, relating in particular to

  • packaging – olive oil must be marketed to the final consumer in packaging of a maximum capacity of 5 litres. It must be fitted with an opening system that can no longer be sealed after the first time it is opened. EU countries may set a maximum capacity exceeding 5 litres in case of oils intended for consumption in restaurants, hospitals, canteens and other similar collective establishments
  • designation of origin – the designation of origin for extra virgin olive oil and virgin olive oil must be indicated: the designation of origin mentioning an EU country shall correspond to the geographical area in which the olives concerned were harvested or in which the mill where the oil was extracted from the olives is situated
  • indication of special preservation conditions – the information on the special preservation conditions of olive oils, namely that the product needs to be stored away from light and heat, shall appear on the labelling
  • the indication of the presence of other vegetable oils and ingredient when used in blends with olive oils
  • rules for optional labelling requirements, such as 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).

Category Checks

One of the key aims of EEC regulation 2568/91 is to ensure that the olive oil marketed is consistent with the specific characteristics applicable to the declared category. Verification of compliance with such characteristics is to be determined through conformity checks performed by national competent authorities.

Each category of olive oil and olive-pomace oil is defined according to a set of limits for different quality and purity parameters. Quality parameters are for instance the organoleptic characteristics of the virgin olive oils (main defect, fruity median) and its degree of acidity. Purity parameters are for instance the fatty acid content and the sterols composition. In order to be marketed under a certain category, the oil shall respect the limits established for that category and it is the responsibility of the EU countries to control that this is indeed the case. More