Oregon lawmakers last week passed food quality standards for olive oil, with legislation introduced by Portland resident Paul Knauls Jr.
State senators Friday approved a bill banning additives and fillers such as peanut oil to "extra virgin" olive oil – the finest quality oil, produced by the first pressing of the olives — sold in the state of Oregon, as well as creating new labeling requirements for the product.
The House of Representatives already approved the measure, HB 2893, last month. The governor's staff confirmed this week he is expected to sign the bill into law.
"Right now there are no standards for extra virgin olive oil or any of the olive oil that we purchase," Knauls told The Skanner. "What that means is that with food allergies, like peanut allergies, tree nut allergies, soy allergies, you could be at risk when you purchase extra virgin olive oil."
Knauls, who imports extra virgin olive oil from Spain, says most olive oil sold in grocery stores contains ingredients not made from olives.
"The New York Times just did a test on 74 bottles of olive oil, and only 4 percent of the olive oil was unadulterated," he said. "The Oregonian two months ago did a spread about olive oil, and one of the writers described one bottle as smelling like motor oil."
Knauls, the son of Geneva and Paul Knauls, Sr., says he first became interested in olive oil because of the dietary restrictions of loved ones.
"I have members of my family that are allergic to peanuts, and so after doing some research and finding out this is going on, it gave me the incentive to move forward and try to do something about changing the regulation in the United States," he said.
Knauls says the new law, which is modeled on similar standards set last year in Connecticut and in California this past January, will take about a year to implement, as it will require new labels on olive oil sold by giant grocery store chains.
National standards for olive oil have not been changed since 1948, and for years gourmet food enthusiasts have argued that it is a food safety issue.
"It could be a fatal event," Jerry Farrell Jr., Connecticut's consumer protection commissioner, told the Associated Press last November, when the state established its new labeling law. "At the very least, even if your allergies are more mild, you're going to be sick from what you eat."
Knauls was praised last month by Rep. Chip Shields as one of three local constituents whose legislation passed through the House of Representatives.
"It was Chip Shields who passed my bill through the House, but it was Sen. Martha Schrader that picked up my bill in the Senate," Knauls said this week. "They worked tirelessly to help me get this thing done."
Knauls is enthusiastic about promoting better quality food for Portland residents, and is considering setting up an olive oil booth at the new Farmer's Market that operates at King Elementary School on Sunday mornings.
"We will be looking forward to getting involved with the Northeast Portland Farmer's Market to spread the word even more among people who like artisan food and food from local farmers," he said.