The controversial ruling by the European Commission means that from 1 January 2014 restaurants will only be able to serve oil in pre-packaged, tamper-proof factory bottles which adhere to EU labelling standards.
Commission spokesman Oliver Bailly tried to justify the ban by claiming the change will actually benefit diners. He told a press briefing in Brussels: “We are just making clear that when you want to have olive oil of a certain quality in a restaurant, you get exactly the one you are paying for.”
But restaurateurs have been quick to hit back, criticising the EU for its unwarranted meddling with an issue that doesn’t really exist in the UK.
Ben Tish, chef/director of the Salt Yard Group – which owns the Opera Tavern, Salt Yard and Dehesa Spanish tapas restaurants in central London – told BigHospitality. “It’s completely stupid, to put it bluntly.
“It’s a waste of time for everyone, there’s no good reasoning for it at all. How do they expect to enforce it? It will clip our wings on a grand scale and I think there will be a big backlash.
“Also, this detracts from the more informal, sharing vibe that our restaurants want to portray. We’re all about breaking bread and sharing and this is going to take part of that away.
“I would just ignore it and see what happens but a customer will probably say something about it, so we are going to have to be proactive about it but we’ll just cross that bridge when we get to it.”
Olive oil is a frequent target of food fraud across the EU, with cheaper oils being sold in its place to unwitting consumers. The aim of the ban is therefore to ensure consumers are guaranteed the exact product they ordered.
But, as Victor Calvente – group general manager of Brindisa Tapas Kitchens (BTK) – points out, ‘the Commission aren’t enforcing this rule on packaging for other products such as butter or mayonnaise’.
“It’s just another way for the EU to get more money from somewhere else,” said Calvente. His four-strong BTK group is operated alongside the Brindisa wholesale business - one of the main importers of olive oil in the UK.
“If it’s about food hygiene, that’s already monitored by the councils and the Food Standards Agency - we’ve got a five-star rating in all of our restaurants.
“We’ve got two options: We could change our operation so that we offer smaller, non-refillable bottles. But there is obviously going to be more of a cost involved which will have to be passed onto the consumer.
“The other option is to put the olive oil straight onto each dish from the kitchen rather than providing individual bottles, but I’m really not sure that we want to do that. So right now we’re unsure exactly what we’ll do.”
The new regulations are part of an EU initiative to help olive oil producers hit by rising operating costs and falling profits in recent years. The European Commission’s proposals were supported by 15 of 27 EU-member governments. Britain abstained from the vote.
What do you think? Will this new olive oil legislation improve hygiene and reassure diners; or is it more unwarranted meddling and another example of a bloated EU bureaucracy? cast your VOTE below.
Olive oil ban: Do you agree with the EU's ruling?