The New York Times today has an excellent article on the California olive oil industry. For the last few years, the industry trade association, The California Olive Oil Council, has tried to distinguish the truly extra virgin products of its membership from the flood of mislabeled imports stocked on supermarket shelves.

The Council tries to underscore the distinction between these cheap imports and its members’ products in a number of ways. They sponsored the UC Davis study cited above which let you know just how dreadful the competition is.

The Council also has its own certification system to identify those domestic oils that are qualitatively superior to competitors. Qualifying products are marked with this symbol. These oils are superior in every measurable way to the yellow jugs of biodiesel you get at Costco.

The problem with the system is that you have never heard of it. Your olive oil purchases should be predicated on the presence or absence of the certification symbol, yet as a typical consumer you do not know to even look for the seal on the bottle.

Trademark law is an astonishingly powerful way to unite growers from across an entire agricultural industry, unite them behind a single production standard, and then fund a comprehensive marketing message to consumers. Idaho potatoes and Florida citrus use trademark law and licensing to promote their members’ products. Trade shows, trade publications, product placement, full page ads in Saveur, all of that stuff is funded through collective certification mark licensing fees which are paid by membership. California has no such system in place yet, which is probably the reason why you are still putting biodiesel on your salad.

For what it is worth, I have tried lots oils bearing the Council’s mark and they rock. If you can find a bottle of it, buy it.