California measure AB 535 attacks protected commercial speech and federally registered and protected trademarks, including the state’s largest grower California Olive Ranch
If passed, AB 535 sets a dangerous precedent for other industries in the state of California
JUNE 14, 2021 - A growing number of California olive oil farmers, millers, industry professionals, and retailers are raising their voices in opposition to California Assemblymember Cecilia Aguiar-Curry’s overly restrictive olive oil labeling legislation, AB 535. As it is currently written, AB 535 criminalizes the selling of olive oil with truthful and accurate brand names containing geographical terms and establishes a concerning precedent for regulating businesses with geographic names and trademarks in other food and agriculture industries.
The proposed bill would make selling products with geographical names or trademarks a misdemeanor and risk criminal penalties for retailers and store employees selling such products.
“As a diversified organic farmer of many crops including olives, fruit and nuts, this bill would negatively impact our – and many other farmers’ – current operations by placing unnecessary regulations on what is an essential, but also tenuous, industry,” said Vincent Ricchiuti of Enzo Olive Oil Company. “This bill does a disservice to the consumer by assuming that they cannot easily discern between a brand name and clear labeling of country of origin while creating a dangerous precedent for the future of farming in California."
Several of the state’s county farm bureaus, as far south as Fresno and as north as Glenn and Tehama counties, share similar concerns and have lent their voices in opposition. Other California olive oil farmers, millers, industry professionals, and retailers who have joined the coalition opposing AB 535 include the California Retailers Association, The Mill at Kings River, Knaughty Farms, Corning Olive Oil Company, Enzo Olive Oil Company/P-R Farms, California Olive Ranch, Imperial Olive Mill, Cal Harvest Marketing, The Olive Oil Factory, Alfa Laval, Apex, Valley Farm Transport, Wawona Frozen Foods, and the Fresno Chamber of Commerce, among others.
“As the largest farmer of California olives for olive oil, no one understands the challenges of adhering to California’s strict regulations and labor practices better than we do,” said Michael Fox, the CEO of California Olive Ranch. “For the California olive oil industry to be successful, we don’t need AB 535, we need to attract new customers with innovative thinking like high-quality blends that allow us to bring award-winning oils to consumers at accessible price points.”
The expanding coalition has suggested amendments to Assembly Member Aguiar-Curry’s office that would address their concerns with AB-535’s provisions that seek to limit federally protected commercial speech.
“New amendments can bring California law into compliance with federal law, ensure consumer transparency, and avoid costly litigation and federal challenges, which no one wants,” said Ricchiuti. “We need to focus our efforts on continuing to move the industry forward, not restrain its growth with overly restrictive laws that will negatively impact consumers who will not benefit from high-quality olive oil at a price point they can access.”