SACRAMENTO, CA – The Assembly this week passed Assembly Bill 535, authored by Assemblymember Cecilia Aguiar-Curry (D-Winters), by a resounding 51-5 bipartisan vote. This bill establishes clear guidelines for when companies from the olive oil industry can use the term “California” in their product labeling and marketing. This measure will protect consumers and farmers by providing clear information about the source of the olives and olive oils in the products they buy.
California has had a thriving olive oil industry since the mid-19th century. The state produces approximately 4% of the world’s olive oil from over 75 varieties of olives. Due to California’s well-established reputation for producing high-quality olive oils, the demand for California olive oil is steadily increasing.
Because of this spike in demand, there has been an increase in branding of olive oil with the term “California” or a California regional designation when the product on shelves is actually blended using oils sourced from other regions of the world, including Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, and South America. Such blends have been found to contain as little as 14 percent of Californian olive oil. As a result, a bottle of olive oil may be advertised and branded as “California” or a specific California region, but actually come from other countries. This has led to consumer confusion, and places California olive farmers and oil producers at a competitive disadvantage.
“To us, it’s really quite simple,” said Peter and Debbie Hunter from Longview Ranch in Winters, CA. “If a bottle is labeled as ‘California Oil’ it should be just that: 100% California produced olive oil. If a packer wants to blend non-California oils, then the bottle should not have the California moniker front-and-center. We adhere to strict regulations and labor practices in California, and consumers are beginning to recognize that. We must make sure that the trust in ‘California’ brands is not eroded.”
AB 535 establishes clear guidelines for when olive oil producers can use the term “California” in their labeling. The bill strengthens existing law by making it illegal to make any false representation that an olive oil is produced entirely from olives grown within California when it is not. Similarly, the bill prohibits any representations indicating that an olive oil was produced from olives grown in a specific region of California, unless at least 85% of the olive oil was produced from olives grown in that region.
AB 535 builds upon previous legislation from Senator Wolk in 2014, who created the California Olive Oil Commission to distinguish the purity of California olive oil from imported alleged to contain counterfeit ingredients, and thereby penetrate the U.S. market.
The California Olive Oil Commission has found several brands of California olive oil whom are currently misleadingly using a California-related name on their labels that deceptively imply only olive oil grown in California is contained within the product.
“California has the best agricultural products, and the highest environmental and labor standards, in the world. Consumers look for California-grown foods because they associate California with quality. Allowing companies to trick consumers into thinking they’re buying a California product because they slap ‘California’ on their package undercuts everything we’re trying to accomplish as a State. These companies have misled my colleagues with little impact, as the vote confirms,” said Aguiar-Curry. “I guess I shouldn’t be surprised because they’re defending their ability to mislead consumers.”
“This bill will ensure that consumers know exactly what they are buying, and it will help to support our local farmers who are producing world class oils from olives grown here in our State. These folks may try to confuse my colleagues, but they’re making a profit off our state, and the price we ask for that is to actually produce a California product.”
By establishing stronger guidelines for olive oil producers to follow in their branding, labeling, packaging, and advertising, AB 535 provides consumers with clear information about what they are purchasing. AB 535 does not restrict blending oils from different sources and destinations, but it makes clear through establishing standards that when “California” is used, the product actually comes from California. This bill strengthens the integrity of the world-renowned California olive oil brand.
Aguiar-Curry represents the 4th Assembly District, which includes all of Lake and Napa Counties, parts of Colusa, Solano and Sonoma Counties, and all of Yolo County except West Sacramento. www.asm.ca.gov/aguiar-curry