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Why a Lobbying Fight Broke Out Over Olive Oil

    ** ADVANCE FOR THURSDAY DEC. 9 ** Coratina olives hang from a tree at the Round Pound estate with vineyards in the background in Rutherford, Calif., Nov. 30, 2004. Just hours after being picked the olives are milled at a frantoio nearby and become oil. A decade ago, there were only a couple of extra virgin olive oil producers in California. Today, there are 125 certified producers who make more than 400,000 gallons of the viscous, golden liquid each year. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)  (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

September 11, 2012

On Congress's To Do list this month is dealing with the farm bill, which expires on Sept. 30. That's a deadline not lost on a group of olive-oil importers who are lobbying lawmakers and the administration, hoping to swat down proposed legislation that could significantly affect their business, they say.

The importers, calling themselves the Alliance for Olive Oil Quality Standards, have spent $80,000 so far this year lobbying Congress, the Agriculture Department, and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative over proposed legislation that could subject imported olive oil to stricter quality standards.

At issue is a provision in the House version of the farm bill. Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., offered a similar amendment in committee, but it was not put to a vote and was not included in the final bill.

The provision would amend the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1937, adding the words "olive oil" to a list of protected commodities. The act prevents the import of items on the list when the Agriculture Department has issued a marketing order for the given commodity unless the commodity complies with the standards in the marketing order.

Brian Pomper, a lobbyist at Akin Gump, the firm representing the Alliance, says that his clients view the proposed legislation and marketing order, which has not yet been filed with USDA, as a burdensome trade barrier.

If the legislation and marketing order went into effect, imported olive oil could not enter the country unless it complied with the order's standards. To put that in perspective, 98 percent of olives are grown outside of the United States, according to International Olive Council statistics.

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