From Now On, 'Israeli' Olive Oil Has to Actually Be Israeli

New guideline seeks to prevent 'deliberate blurring of the countries of origin', as Plant Board warns Israelis risk consuming oil from 'countries such as Iran, Turkey and Libya'

File photo: Olive oil bottles in an oil mill in Tzippori, in northern Israel, March 2016.
Eyal Toueg

Starting Tuesday, the Israeli shopper buying Israeli olive oil can buy with confidence knowing that the product was really made with homegrown olives.

Until now, makers could sell olive oil – a staple in the Israeli Mediterranean-style diet – as “Israeli” even if as little as 35% of the oil was actually from Israel. That, hints the Plant Production and Marketing Board, was putting Israelis at risk of using enemy oil.

“In many cases deliberate blurring of the countries of origin occurs,” explained the board, which represents growers and had lobbied hard for the change. “Italy, for example, exports much more oil than it produces. The gap is explained by its being an export pipeline to countries such as Iran, Turkey and Libya where olive oil quality standards are often not observed.”

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Under the new rules, there are no restrictions on imported olive oil, but bottles will now have to prominently display the product’s country or countries of origin. For oil sold as “Israeli,” admixtures of foreign oil from each and every country will also have to be prominently labeled.

The Health Ministry is officially responsible for enforcing the new regulations, but supermarkets and groceries will be responsible for policing the nation’s olive oil, too, and required to remove offending products from their shelves.

About 340,000 dunams (85,000 acres) of land is used to grow olives in Israel, yielding about 18,000 tons of oil, according to the Agriculture Ministry. But consumption is about 23,500 tons, meaning imports comprise a big part of the market.

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon signed the new rules at the end of 2016 but implementation was delayed under pressure from olive oil producers and importers, who said they needed time to prepare.

In defense of the move, the Plant Board said it was important to know where their olive oil was coming from, saying that like fine wine its origin and authenticity is critical in deciding which brand to buy.

“Until now, they have confused the Israeli consumer and made him believe that he is buying Israeli olive oil, but in most cases he was buying mixed oils from unknown sources, some of them from third world countries where oil quality standards are often not observed,” said Dr. Adi Naali, the head of the Plant Board’s olive division.