Global Ethics Corner: Why Does the EU Care About Olive Oil?

May 28, 2013

A proposed EU ban on the use of dipping bowls and refillable glass bottles of olive oil in restaurants has people asking questions. Is this more useless meddling from the EU bureaucracy? Could the ban help struggling olive oil-producing states? Is there more to this story?

The European Union has frequently been criticized for being out of touch with the local concerns of its member states. In the past, the EU has invited ridicule for imposing rules governing everything from the curvature of bananas in the Eurozone to the minimum age for blowing up balloons.

Now, the EU’s executive commission is set to ban the use of dipping bowls and refillable glass bottles of olive oil in restaurants and cafes.

Starting in January of 2014, restaurant customers across Europe will be limited to using oil from non-refillable, clearly-labeled bottles with tamper-proof caps. The move is meant to ensure hygiene, quality, and authenticity—The Wall Street Journal calls olive oil production "a fraud-prone business," rife with bribery and counterfeiting.

But given the ongoing Eurozone economic crisis, some are wondering if Brussels has its priorities in order. They say throw-away containers will reward big industrial bottlers, drive small producers out of business, and needlessly waste packaging and perfectly good olive oil.

What’s more, they argue that the EU should focus on the EU economic crisis. Fiscal collapse has all but paralyzed several national economies and unemployment levels in France and Spain reached all-time highs last month. Yet 15 of the EU’s 27 nations have signed up for this bill, including Europe’s main olive oil producers, Italy, Greece, Spain, and Portugal. These are precisely the countries hardest hit by the financial crisis. Conversely, some non-olive-growing countries took a different tack. Germany and Holland both voted against it, calling it "bizarre" and "wasteful," respectively, while Britain abstained.

What do you think? Will this olive oil container ban improve quality and safety for consumers, and incidentally help olive oil-producing countries? Is there more to this story than how restaurants serve Europe’s favorite condiment? Or is it just more useless meddling on the part of a remote EU bureaucracy?

For more information, see:

"Old Oil in New Bottles," The Wall Street Journal, May 20, 2013

Harvey Morris, "Storm in a Dipping Bowl Over Europe’s Olive Oil Rule," The New York Times, May 20, 2013

Bruno Waterfield, "Dutch to oppose 'bizarre' EU olive oil ban at Brussels summit," The Telegraph, May 22, 2013

Photo credits in order of appearance: erjkprunczýk Steve Swayne Kim+5 Jose Carlos Norte Omernos Michael May fvanrenterghem Horace Ko Alejandro Linares Garcia Caspar Diederik M0tty Mehran Khalili Anders Sandberg European Parliament Phillipe Leroyer Ash Crow Framoliva Joanna Darwin Bell Robyn Lee Liz West Pilar Flores Charles Haynes

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