California Debates Olive Oil Labeling Bill
On July 1, the California State Senate will hold a hearing on Assembly Bill (AB) 535, which establishes guidelines on when the olive oil industry can use the term “California” on product labeling and marketing. The bill would prohibit any reference to California or any other representation on the principal display panel (PDP) of any container of olive oil, including the terms “California olive oil,” “California olives,” or similar-type phrases, unless 100% of the olives used to produce the oil were actually grown in California.
AB 535 would also prohibit labeling a container of olive oil with claims or representations that the olives were grown in a specific region of California, unless 85% of the olive oil, by weight, was produced from olives grown in that specific region.
The bill was introduced on February 10, 2021 by CA Assemblymember Cecilia M. Aguiar-Curry, and is a reintroduction bill of last year’s AB 2074 which was tabled in order to prioritize COVID-19 emergency-related legislation. AB 535 passed the Assembly on May 17, 2021 and ordered to the Senate. A Senate hearing was originally scheduled for June 17, but was postponed until July 1.
In a press release, Assemblymember Aguiar-Curry stated that the bill “protects Californian olive growers and manufacturers from being undercut in the market by oils that benefit from using the ‘California’ name to mislead consumers about what they’re buying.” However, Michael Fox, CEO of California Olive Ranch, believes AB 535 is an attempt to go after the company’s “Global Blend” extra virgin olive oil series, which is sold under the California Olive Branch brand but combines extra virgin olive oils from California and other growing regions in South America and Europe. Michael Fox stated that “[a]s it is currently written, AB 535 criminalizes the selling of olive oil with truthful and accurate brand names containing geographical terms and establishes a concerning precedent for regulating businesses with geographic names and trademarks in other food and agriculture industries.”