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Integrated Approach to Sustainable Olive Oil and Table Olives Production (INASOOP)

Final Report Summary - INASOOP (Integrated Approach to Sustainable Olive Oil and Table Olives Production)

World demand for olives and olive oil is rising, yet many European olive producers are finding themselves facing the threat of closure. The cost of complying with stringent European Union (EU) regulations, combined with growing competition, is posing serious problems for smaller companies, and many are finding it difficult to cope. In the INASOOP project, ten industry associations are working with key research institutes and environmental consultancies to help around 12 000 small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) across Mediterranean Europe to compete more effectively in the world olive market.

The aim of the INASOOP project was to develop harmonised Environmental quality standards (EQS) for both olive mills and table olives manufacturers whose compliance would guarantee meeting the current legislation as well as serving at the same time as a marketing tool. To achieve this, a strong and complementary project consortium was selected including industrial associations, SME olive mills and table olive producers and specialised research institutes form different European olive oil producing countries (Italy, Greece, Spain and Portugal). Furthermore, the project aimed at defining the structures for the management, review and update, as well as the dissemination of the results among the affiliates to the Industry association groups (IAGs) and the society in general.

This project was conceived in response to several factors currently affecting the sectors involved, among them, the increasingly restrictive environmental legislation, the public awareness of environmental impacts that these industries can cause odour, ground water contamination and soil pollution - and the need for modernisation and competitiveness of these traditional industries.

The implementation in the future of the EQS proposed by the project will have as a result that SME olive mills and table olives producers are able to meet European environmental regulations, to improve their commercial image via environmental labelling identifying the olive oil and table olives produced under the EQS and in some cases, even to optimise the economic performance of their exploitations if valorisation alternatives can be identified for their residues (for instance, energy valorisation, reuse of treated water in the production process, extraction of valuable substances, etc), or if energy and / or water consumption patterns can be reduced.

The main impacts of the INASOOP project foreseen at its conception were as follows:
- to improve the environmental performance of olive mills, allowing them to comply with current and future legislation;
- to improve the commercial image of the olive mills that decide to apply for the EQS, providing an added value to their products; and
- to increase their general knowledge base, leading in turn to increased competitiveness.

The work performed under INASOOP has brought together the main associations of producers in EU, which produce 80.2 % of the world's average olive oil production. It has enabled the exchange of experiences and good practices among producers using different systems who work under different local constraints such as legislative frameworks or agricultural uses. The identification of differences and similarities has proven to be a valuable work at the European level.

In this way, INASOOP has been a successful approach that will help the standardisation of the sector in the future. On the other hand, these differences have in some occasions hindered the achievement of general solutions, because the realities in each of the involved countries do not allow the implementation of all the measures for a better environmental performance of this industry. The end-users of the results of the project, the IAG and SME members have nevertheless expressed their will to use and update of the EQS and the expert system, continuing with the work already performed.

Taking into account the difficulties and internal problems encountered, the partners consider the objectives set at the beginning of the project achieved.

The environmental performance of olive mills can be improved through the implementation of the measures proposed in the EQS. However, it is necessary to point out that the extent of this improvement is limited to country restrictions. As mentioned before, this has been a hindrance whenever trying to reach a deeper impact in the sector. The development of the olive sector is strongly influenced by historical market structures and agricultural practices that hinder the use of modern technologies. This represents a competitive disadvantage in comparison with other producer countries and should be tackled from a higher level than this project. For example, the use of waste to energy solutions that could on the one hand be a solution for the industry in several aspects, such as waste disposal and energy self-sufficiency, has little or no interest for some of the countries addressed, usually due to the lack of national initiatives that support their early implementation.

The olive sector in the EU involves in total about 2.5 million producers, and the majority of olive mills are small enterprises, representing a large share of the EU agricultural sector. We strongly believe that the certification through the EQS, although experimental in the present time, can improve the commercial image of the European olive oil and table olive products, and that such measures are useful in a market that is becoming more competitive with the addition of new players.

The most important outcomes of the project are the set of EQS and the expert system. The EQS is a set of measures to improve the environmental performance of olive mills and table olive producers. All the partners have worked at some stage in the preparation of these standards, and all have agreed in the contents of the final set. This is an interesting alternative for those olive mills that want to certify certain practices towards sustainability and respect for the environment and which cannot apply for 'ecological production' labels, which entails different system characteristics.

The EQS were intended to be implemented in olive mills, which could then apply for a certification of their production scheme and label their products accordingly. The agreements reached among the partners envisage the monitoring of the implementation of the EQS in olive mills through the IAGs. The trained staff of the IAGs will be in charge of carrying out the certification. However, at the present stage, the implementation of the EQS will be experimental. Development through future updates might enable the achievement of a final certification.