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Proposal To USDA Would Require Expensive Tests And New Labeling Guidelines For Olive Oil Imports While Starving The Market Of Safe and Affordable Imports

In Personal Letter To Agriculture Secretary, Schumer Pushes USDA To Maintain Current Standards That Are In Best Interest Of 200 Sovena USA Employees in Rome, NY

Schumer To Feds: Proposed Marketing Order For Olive Oil Would Be A Job-Killer


Today, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer called on the U.S. Department of Agriculture to reject plans to change the current standards for olive oil in the United States, a move that could have devastating consequences for Sovena in Rome, and its 200 employees. Schumer is urging government officials to disregard a costly and ineffective proposed marketing order that would change the standard definitions, testing methodology and labeling guidelines for domestically sold olive oils. In a letter to USDA Secretary Vilsack, Schumer stressed that the federal government should continue to hold foreign imports to the same high standard as homegrown products, but that this specific marketing order proposed by the California Olive Oil Council (COOC) would undermine USDA requirements, which are nearly identical to those of the International Olive Council (IOC). Schumer pointed out that the overwhelming majority of olive oil producers and marketers around the globe observe the current USDA standards for imported olive oils. Schumer also takes issue with the COOC’s proposed marketing order because it would allow domestic producers to raise the price of olive oil, while putting hundreds of New York jobs at risk because local importers and bottlers of olive oil would have to navigate new testing regimes and labeling changes. For example, the order would add $7,000 in testing costs to each of Sovena’s shipments. Not only would this marketing order jeopardize the 200 jobs at companies like Sovena USA, Inc. in Rome, NY, but COOC’s proposal would cost the American family more to put a bottle of olive oil in their pantry.


“This olive oil marketing order is a potential job-killer in Upstate New York and across the country that would also cost consumers more to put olive oil on the table,” said Schumer. “The regressive proposal moves the goalposts for local small businesses, like Sovena USA in Rome, NY that import and bottle olive oil and play by the rules. We can’t let a few domestic olive oil producers unfairly imply that all olive oil imports are frauds so they can impose new regulations that would raise the price of olive oil and unfairly burden U.S. olive oil bottlers. I believe that the federal government should ensure that American consumers have access to safe, accurately labeled olive oil. However, the federal government should not miss the forest for the olive trees. The USDA can maintain the same high standards of safety and fairness without imposing new tests and labeling guidelines that would ultimately restrict the supply of affordable olive oil, kill jobs, and raise prices for middle class families when they go to the supermarket.”


“Senator Schumer has it right when it comes to this expensive USDA marketing order—it’s like trying to mix water with our olive oil,” said Steve Mandia, Chairman of Sovena USA. “It just won’t work. While we need a mandatory standard for olive oil, a marketing order just isn’t the right way to implement it. An order for imported and domestically produced olive oil would be a major barrier to trade and impede our industry. Even worse, the USDA proposal Senator Schumer is rightfully fighting would raise olive oil prices across the board. That’s bad for restaurants, grocers and the kitchen table.”


Schumer called on USDA to reject any proposed marketing order that would impose new testing, labeling and naming regulations for olive oil imports as well as the domestic industry. COOC’s draft marketing order, which the council could formally propose to the USDA as early as June 2012, makes the unfair and costly assumption that many olive oil imports are fraudulent and that more expensive tests and labeling changes are needed. Schumer believes COOC’s marketing order unfairly puts up a barrier for safe, affordable imports.


Americans import 98% of the total olive oil consumed domestically. Schumer highlighted in the letter that the marketing order would ultimately impose expensive new tests on imports that are inconsistent with current USDA and international standards. Schumer pointed out that the USDA revised its standard definition for “extra virgin olive oil” in late 2010. This marketing order, if enacted, would supersede the new standard that was, in fact, adopted at the behest of domestic olive oil producers.


In his letter to Sec. Vilsack, Schumer pointed out that upstate New York companies like olive oil importer and bottler Sovena, USA, Inc. employ nearly 200 people and supply over half of all private label olive oil sold in the United States. An unnecessary and expensive testing regime could slow imports and jeopardize hundreds of jobs in New York and across the country. 


A marketing order is a tool that growers of an agricultural product use to set mandatory regulations for the domestic sale of a specific product. To obtain a marketing order, a domestic industry submits a petition to USDA. Subsequently, USDA considers public comment on the marketing order and the domestic industry can vote to bind itself to the new standards in the marketing order. When first adopted, the marketing order only applies to the domestic industry, but will almost always extend to imports.


A copy of Senator Schumer’s letter to USDA Secretary Vilsack appears below:


The Honorable Tom Vilsack

Secretary of Agriculture

1400 Independence Avenue, SW

Washington, DC 20250


Dear Secretary Vilsack,


I write to express concern regarding a proposed marketing order ultimately intended to govern the sale of all olive oil in the United States.  While I agree that we need to ensure foreign imports meet the same high standards as domestically produced products, a marketing order that would require expensive testing of every lot of olive oil imported into the United States and mandate tests rejected by the international standard-setting body on olive oil is not the right approach.  The proposed marketing order would dramatically raise testing costs for U.S. olive oil bottlers like New York’s Sovena USA, as well as increase prices for consumers.


As you know, the USDA revised its standard for olive oil in late 2010 (the original standard was issued in 1948) based on a request from domestic olive oil producers.  The newly-revised standard establishes the definition for olive oil sold in the United States, and is intended to facilitate marketing, promote truth in labeling, and provide a basis for enforcement by State and Federal agencies if olive oil products are mislabeled.  The USDA standard is essentially identical to the International Olive Oil (IOC) standards – recognized by the vast majority of the world’s olive oil producers and marketers – and should ensure product quality and protection of American consumers.  A new marketing order that would deviate from the internationally-recognized standard, mandate expensive new testing regimes, and require labeling changes, seems unnecessary at best and economically harmful at worst. 


At risk, for example, is New York importer and bottler Sovena USA, Inc.  Sovena is the largest importer of olive oil in the United States and provides approximately fifty percent of all private label olive oil sold in the United States.  Based in the Central New York city of Rome, Sovena employs nearly 200 people and operates a 185,000 foot manufacturing facility on 23 acres.  As one of the largest employers in Rome, Sovena’s continued economic health is vital to the local economy.  I am concerned that the proposed marketing order would unfairly burden Sovena’s business and lead to increased prices for consumers, negatively impacting individuals, restaurants and retailers throughout my state.


Thank you for your attention to this matter.  I ask that you please keep me apprised of developments on this issue. 




Charles E. Schumer

United States Senator


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