Organic Olive Oil:
Its Hidden Value
Written by: Athanasios Demeslis, Producer of Myrolion
Last Update: December 16th 2020
Read Time: 8′
Some consumers wonder: “Is organic olive oil worth it?”
By the end of this article you will know why organic EVOO is the only choice for those who want to provide their loved ones with safe and nutritious olive oil.
In addition, you will learn how Greek organic extra virgin olive oil (OEVOO) is a sustainable product.
Lazy? Quick Read.
10 Quick Facts on Organic Olive Oil
1. Organic Olive Oil is characterized by the absence of chemical residues related to synthetic plant protection products (PPPs) and fertilizers.
2. Some merchants of conventional (i.e., non-organic) olive oil claim that buying organic EVOO is a waste of money. This is not true.
3. Certified organic olive oil always comes with specific labeling and certifications, depending on its origin and market of sale.
4. Due to limited controls there are fraudulent organic certificates out there. But there are ways to identify truly organic brands.
5. While Organic EVOO does not include potentially harmful chemicals, its additional value to society is related to the way it is produced.
6. Conventional agriculture, including conventional olive oil production, is related to imbalance, desertification and is harmful to biodiversity.
7. While not all organic products are sustainable, specifically Greek organic olive oil is sustainable.
8. Regardless of the intended use of the olive oil you want to purchase, buying organic is easy thanks to the big pricing range.
9. Truly organic olive oil is the only guarantee that you nurture your loved ones in the best way, while protecting the ecosystems it is produced in.
10. We encourage you to communicate with your supplier, and if possible your producer, to know your olive oil as well as possible.
What is the Real Value of Organic Olive Oil?
Organic Olive Oil (bio-olive oil, eco-olive oil, etc.) is usually perceived from a consumerist point of view; there are no pesticides or herbicides to sneak into our meals. And that’s great. However, buying olive oil is not only about us anymore, it is about our collective home, the Earth.
As a producer who spends days on his groves, I believe there’s another, even more important aspect. Our family experiences the benefits of organic EVOO on the field.
Put simply, our olive farm looks like a natural olive forest. Our trees are part of a greater ecosystem in which all forms of life are respected and allowed to bloom. In return, all those beautiful bugs and flowers that embrace my trees are a great source of nutrients. Sometimes we fail to see the connection, which is indirect yet crucial.
By choosing truly organic olive oil, you choose not to harm an ecosystem’s diversity. You choose natural balance over perpetual, artificial interference that leads to long-term imbalance. The following two images will help you understand the difference.
Organic Olive Tree Cultivation
In this picture, Ioanna, my mother, is harvesting chamomile to later turn into relaxing chamomile tea. As you can see, she is in our olive groves, right in the shade of an olive tree.
A very interesting result of organic farming is that my family has the ability to enjoy all this ecosystem has to offer, not just olive oil or green olives, but everything from mountain weeds and oregano to wild asparagus and mushrooms. In the long run it’s a win-win situation. All these ingredients improve our daily diet as it resembles a hunger-gatherer diet.
In the same time, the trees enjoy the presence of hundreds of species of microbes, herbs, flowers, insects, and other animals that essentially turn our olive groves into a natural olive forest. In addition, this diversity allows our organic EVOO to offer a great culinary experience, by carrying robust aromas, delicate flavor and overall freshness from this diverse ecosystem.
Biodiversity is a key factor for a thriving ecosystem. Increased diversity provides more chances for an ecosystem to achieve natural balance.
We don’t see ourselves as the all-knowing, all-powerful rulers of our land. On the contrary, we allow Life to lead the way and we follow.
Another very important aspect of this ecosystem is that the increased number of root systems functions as a carbon sink, essentially increasing our land’s capability to store carbon and battle climate change.
Conventional Olive Tree Cultivation
This is a photo of a conventional olive grove located in France. The lack of any form of life below the olive trees is shocking in comparison to our organic olive groves. No microbes, flowers, herbs or animals have the chance to thrive in such an environment. In effect, it is not what we consider to be “Nature” anymore.
We are used to seeing images of tilled land, which is essentially stripped off organic matter. However, this old agricultural practice has proven to be harmful to ecosystems’ diversity. Eventually, that leads to poor nutritional value of the produced food, desertification, and a limited carbon capacity in the soil.
Take a moment to look at the two very different types of soil and realize the greater importance of Greek organic extra virgin olive oil.
What is Organic Olive Oil?
Organic olive oil contains no residues of industrially prepared pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers. For this to happen, the olive oil should be free of such substances in all production stages, including cultivation, harvesting, pressing, filtration, storage, bottling and shipping.
Is Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil the Best Olive Oil?
While the organic feature is not a guarantee for premium quality, it definitely is a necessity for premium quality. Simply put, premium quality olive oil should not contain potentially harmful residues.
What are the Benefits of Organic EVOO?
– Absence of Dimethoate: A typical pesticide that is used against the olive fruit fly, olive fruit’s most common enemy. Dimethoate is banned in France since 2016 due to safety concerns for consumers. None of the olive oil producing countries in the Mediterranean has banned dimethoate as of now. Given the commonality with which dimethoate is used as an olive fruit fly pesticide, it is highly likely that you are consuming traces of dimethoate while consuming conventional olive oil.
– Absence of Fenthion: Although this organothiophosphate insecticide is listed as a moderately toxic compound by the World Health Organization, environmental impact is severe especially on birds, despite its low half-life. Until now it has only been banned in Australia due to safety concerns. It is highly likely that conventionally produced olive oils from Greece, Italy, Spain, Turkey, Morocco, Tunisia, etc. might contain residues of this.
– Absence of Deltamethrin: It is a pyrethroid ester insecticide and is highly effective for pest control in agriculture and against malaria. Deltamethrin is generally considered safe to use around humans, even though it is a neurotoxin. Even though it is not restricted like dimethoate or fenthion, it has been found that it is possible for deltamethrin to pass through the skin, enter the bloodstream and find its way in breast milk of pregnant women. In addition, a French study revealed that exposure to this insecticide correlates to negative cognitive scores in infants. Deltamethrin is typically used in conventional olive farming against at least four pests. In addition, it acts as an allergen and can lead to asthma for some people. Finally, it is highly toxic to aquatic life and traces generated by large-scale agricultural use can impact local water reservoirs. It is worth mentioning that most of the effects mentioned above have been identified in the context of deltamethrin being used as a house insecticide against mosquitoes, cockroaches, etc.
– Absence of Cyhalothrin: It is another pyrethroid insecticide that according to the Global Harmonized System of Labeling and Classification of Chemicals (GHS) is considered Toxic, Harmful and causes Environmental Hazard. In the USA its use is restricted by the FDA, while the WHO and Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) define the acceptable daily intake up to 0.02 mg/kg of body weight. It can cause severe poisoning if consumed in higher concentrations. Unfortunately, it is severely harmful against honeybees. Concentrations as small as 0.04 micrograms can kill a bee. Cyhalothrin is typically used against two popular olive fruit pests. Its use can practically transform the olive grove into a no-fly/no-life zone for bees.
While these are the most popular insecticides used in olive farming, there are approximately thirty substances used in total.
Consuming conventional olive oil does not guarantee that you will also consume the above insecticides. However, by consuming organic olive oil, you can be certain that you will not consume traces of pesticides and synthetic fertilizers. Or can you?
Let’s see the challenges related to certified organic olive oil.
How is Organic EVOO Certified?
For olive oil to be certified organic, supervision by an Inspection Body is mandatory. As you can see in our partners section, Myrolion is supervised by BioHellas, which provides inspection and certification services according to EU Regulation 834/2007. According to the Organic Certification Directory 2008, a special edition of the Organic Standard, BioHellas is among the top-ten Inspection and Certification Bodies worldwide.
BioHellas certifies that our practices and the practices of our partners, that are necessary for the extraction and bottling of our organic EVOO, are indeed organic.
In the EU it is easy to identify certified organic olive oils through the European Seal of Organic Farming. In the US this can be done through the USDA Organic logo that proves that the olive oil is USDA Certified Organic. You can see both logos below. Myrolion is a certified organic olive oil according to EU and US standards.
Fraudulent Organic Certifications
Unfortunately, it is possible for various brands to position their products as organic while not actually being organic. This can be done in two ways:
Brands may imply that their products are organic by using terms such as “pure” or “natural.” In effect, these terms mean nothing and are only used to stimulate a sentimental response from the consumers and make them believe the products are produced ethically, sustainably, and with the environment in mind.
In some cases, brands have been found to present fraudulent documents, certifications, analyses or logos. This is straight fraud. In the USA alone, approximately 150 cases of fraudulent organic certifications for food products have been documented.
As a producer of organic food, I know that it is not too difficult to present a conventional olive oil as organic. Unfortunately, there are intrinsic thresholds to the extent inspection bodies can deploy technical and managerial controls. What are the intrinsic thresholds?
1. Inspection bodies are for-profit companies
2. Public sector is restricted to policy-making and in some cases it might be too underfunded to proceed to evaluations and controls.
Since inspection bodies are private, for-profit companies they need clients to stay in business. Organic producers and manufacturers are their clients. It makes sense that inspection bodies want more and more producers to be certified, so they can increase their revenue and chances of survival.
In some cases it is even possible to get certified online, without having a physical control on the farm, warehouse or production site.
While an organic certification does not guarantee that your food is organic, it is a necessary feature when looking for truly organic products.
How to Identify Truly Organic Olive Oil
This is your chance to use social media without feeling guilt for wasting time! Research your olive oil supplier on social media to find hints of a truly organic production process.
When it comes to olive oil, look for photos of the olive farm. Is the soil covered by vegetation or is it bare and exposed? Try to look for photos of the olive grove through the seasons. You should expect to see rich vegetation during the Spring, dry or mowed vegetation during the Summer. The difference between spraying and mowing is that mowing does not remove the vegetation completely. Stock photos are not a good indication since there is no transparency.
To view an example of a truly organic olive grove, feel free to check Myrolion on Instagram.
Finally, remember that a truly organic olive oil producer has nothing to hide. Feel free to contact your producer and ask for documents, photos or other information. Ask about their practices.
Is Organic Olive Oil a Sustainable Food?
As an olive oil producer from Greece, I can specifically express an opinion about Greek olive oil. I cannot have an opinion on whether Italian, Spanish or olive oils from other countries are produced sustainably because the production model differs by country.
It is true that not all organic food is produced in a sustainable way. Even though organic agriculture produces smaller amounts of greenhouse-gas emissions, it typically provides smaller yields too. As a result, more land is needed, which in turn negates the initial environmental benefits.
However, this is only a very specific model that applies on certain crops and regions. It is not a principle. As a matter of fact, it is possible for organic agriculture to provide equal yields to conventional agriculture. In addition, it is possible for organic farming to absorb more greenhouse gasses than it releases, essentially achieving carbon negative status.
It all comes down to the approach of agriculture. Since the rise of synthetic pest management products and fertilizers, a few decades ago, farmers went through a paradigm shift. The new era of synthetic chemical products made farmers think of their lands as empty fields that they need to fill with nutrients. This, combined with limited accessibility to analysis services that help specify the needs of a crop, led to excessive use of synthetic pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers. This affects environmental balance and floods food product with synthetic residues.
Unfortunately, this paradigm is preserved in organic farming. Numerous farmers transition to organic farming to receive additional state support and continue using synthetic products for pest control and fertilization. The only difference is that these products are considered suitable for organic farming. As a result, the unsustainable practices that negate the benefits of organic farming continue.
Thankfully, a new paradigm is on the rise and this is what our family, and other organic olive oil producers throughout Greece, represent. Based on the principle that soil health is of utmost importance, we treat our olive farms as a complex, dynamic ecosystem that is not only a warehouse of nutrients, but a place for all forms of life to bloom, essentially leading to natural balance. This natural balance leads to reduced costs, reduce use of synthetic products and great yields.
Finally, when it comes specifically to Greek olive farms, the claim that more land is acquired for organic farming to be financially sustainable, is simply not true. 80% of Greece is covered by mountains. Simply put, there is not more land for organic olive groves to expand to. Greek producers who transition to organic olive farming simply change the way in which they cultivate their existing trees, instead of acquiring more land.
As a result, it is safe to claim that Greek organic extra virgin olive oil is a sustainable food.
Is Organic Olive Oil a Waste of Money?
To my surprise, this has been implied. Various conventional olive oil distributors and retailers claim that the olive tree is very resilient and does not need pest management or fertilization. As a result, the only difference between organic and conventional olive oil is the price.
This is a lie. Conventional olive farming uses significant amounts of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers. In some cases, pesticide use is so excessive that pests become immune to it, leading to an imbalance cascade with severe environmental consequences.
Is Myrolion Organic?
Our family consumes the same olive oil daily. We are olive oil producers and olive oil consumers simultaneously. We wouldn’t be happy to know that our food is jammed with pesticides and herbicides. However, industrially prepared herbicides, pesticides and fertilizers allow farmers to deal with a plethora of otherwise serious challenges quickly and usually affordably. So, what do we do instead?
Lots and lots of manual labor while farming. What herbicides do in one hour, we do in days of hard work. For example, during late summer we typically have to cut weeds and let them rest on the soil so they can transform to organic matter that will benefit our land in the long-run. Other farmers prefer to spray them with questionable synthetic mixes and complete the process in a day. We take our time to cut these weeds by hand. Organic EVOO is the definition of slow food.
Nature Leads the Way
We let Nature do her job. Permaculture enables legumes and other naturally-occurring plant species to feed our olive trees. We also utilize organic manure from neighboring livestock farmers to enrich our soils with organic matter. Additionally, we engage in no-tilling to protect soil from erosion and nutrient depletion. While other olive oil producers prefer to easily stuff their land with industrially synthesized chemicals, leading to unsustainable, unhealthy farming, we simply prefer to mimic Nature.
Smart Pest Control
We fight pests with trapping and fruit camouflaging techniques instead of potentially harmful chemical sprays. Climate Change is a big opponent as mild winters and humid summers greatly benefit the presence of pests, especially the olive fruit fly. We make sure to always be one step ahead through real-time weather monitoring.
Continuous Education on Sustainable Cultivation
Our family is a proud member of Regeneration International and we are continuously increasing our understanding on soil health, diversity and overall balance. This allows us to constantly improve our practices for the benefit of our land, trees and customers.