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EU project helps olive growers go green

Europe's olive growers face two major challenges: on the one hand, they have to adhere to strict EU environmental legislation, but at the same time competition from overseas olive growers is pressurising them to keep their prices low.

Now, thanks to the EU-funded NASOOP (Integrated Approach to Sustainable Olive Oil and Table Olive Production) project, help is at hand. For the past three years, the project partners have been working on a set of guidelines which will help olive growers improve their environmental performance and become more competitive.

The EU is the world's leading producer of both olive oil and table olives, with Spain, Italy and Greece alone accounting for 80% of the world's olive oil production. Due to the oil's taste and health benefits, world consumption of these products is predicted to grow by around 3.5% to 4% a year.

However, while olives may be good for our health, producing them is often extremely bad for the environment. The olive oil industry produces some 10 million tonnes of residues a year, while the table olive industry produces 1 million tonnes. The residues and run-offs associated with these processes are often released into the environment, where they cause soil pollution and a range of other problems.

Most of the EU's 12,000 olive mills are small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) for whom following the EU's environmental legislation while competing with growers elsewhere is a major challenge.

The INASOOP project was led by the Bremerhaven Technology-Transfer-Centre and brought together olive mill associations, producers and research institutes. The project partners analysed the situation in the different countries involved in the project. They are now working together to produce Environmental Quality Standards (EQS). On the basis of these guidelines the partners are producing instructions which will help producers apply the standards as simply as possibly. They cover issues such as how to reduce water and energy use, the uptake of new technologies for waste disposal and how to improve production conditions.

As well as helping the growers adhere to the environmental legislation, the guidelines will help to improve the image of the product, thereby increasing its value and the competitiveness of the European olive industry.

'For all European food producers it is not just important to improve production conditions for competitiveness purposes,' commented Werner Mlodzianowski of the Bremerhaven Technology-Transfer-Centre. 'In order to be able to stand out from cheaper products from outside of Europe, above all tasty and qualitatively convincing products must be produced.'

Virginia Mercouri | alfa
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