Proposal to ban use of refillable olive oil vessels in restaurants slips from European Commission agenda
Move would have banned serving of oil in bowls and jugs
EU agriculture commissioner Dacian Ciolos yesterday confirmed the European Commission was withdrawing the proposal to regulate how olive oil is served and presented in restaurants, recognising that it had not garnered “widespread support”.
The European Commission yesterday withdrew proposals to ban restaurants from serving olive oil in refillable jugs and bowls, following public criticism of a move that had been supported by Ireland.
Just over a week ago, the commission brought forward proposals to regulate how olive oil is served and presented in restaurants, amid concern that consumers were being misinformed about the quality and origins of the olive oil on their tables. Ireland was one of 15 countries which voted in favour of the proposal at an agricultural committee meeting last week.
The move would have seen the practice of serving olive oil in small bowls and jugs banned in restaurants throughout the EU.
However, yesterday EU agriculture commissioner Dacian Ciolos confirmed the commission was withdrawing the proposal, recognising that it had not garnered “widespread support”.
Restaurants and consumers
“I want to come out with a new proposal [after having] a discussion with the restaurants and the consumers, and to take into account together the best manner to do this,” the commissioner said yesterday. He said the decision to drop the ban was taken because only 15 member states had supported the move.
The proposals, due to come into force in January, would have required olive oil to be presented in special labelled bottles, displaying olive oil category and origin, with a special dispensing nozzle. Refillable bottles were also to be banned, to guard against restaurants refilling empty bottles with cheaper olive oil. The move provoked ire from artisan producers and consumer groups in Britain who argued the move would encourage mass-produced olive oil products.
The U-turn by the commission followed comments by British prime minister David Cameron on Wednesday. Asked about the proposal after the EU summit in Brussels, he said it was “exactly the sort of thing that Europe shouldn’t even be discussing”.
Britain abstained in last week’s vote, while the Netherlands voted against the ban. Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte also criticised the proposal.
“I think it is incomprehensible to come up with this sort of proposal at a time like this,” he said.
The regulation of olive oil bottles is part of a wider EU response to the struggling olive oil sector, which has suffered from weak prices in recent years. Europe’s main olive oil producers – Spain, Italy, Portugal and Greece – were among the countries that backed the ban, prompting accusations that the European Commission had caved in to pressure from agricultural lobby groups at the expense of consumers.
“This is about making sure the consumer gets what he or she is paying for.
“Not any particular lobby is pushing us,” Mr Ciolos said yesterday as he defended the proposal, adding that the measure would encourage producers to produce quality, rather than low-cost, oils.
The controversy also raised questions about a north/south divide , with almost all the countries that voted against the move being from the northern part of the bloc, including the Baltic States, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Belgium.
Europe is the world’s largest producer of olive oil, accounting for between 60 and 70 per cent of all olive oil produced.
The vast majority of Europe’s supply is produced in Spain, Portugal, Italy and Greece, with Spanish exports worth €1.8 billion in 2011.
A similar measure to regulate olive oil bottles has been in place in Portugal since 2005.
Moves to aid the olive oil sector were unveiled last year by the European Commission through an “action plan” for the sector last autumn.
Mr Ciolos said his commitment to the plan remains on track, despite the decision to drop the ban on regulating olive oil bottles in restaurants.