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Refill olive oil bottles in restaurants? Forget it, says EU. Too unhygienic and fraud-prone

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BRUSSELS - The small glass bottle filled, and refilled, with golden olive oil has long been a staple on many restaurant tables across Europe. Now, the European Union is going to ban it.

The European Commission, the EU's executive, said Friday that, as of next year, restaurant customers will only be allowed to use oil from non-refillable bottles with proper content labeling to douse their crusty bread or garden salad.

EU spokesman Olivier Bailly said consumers often get fooled by being served cheap olive oil. Non-refillable bottles would also improve hygiene, he claims.

"We are just protecting consumers," said Bailly. "We are just making clear that when you want to have olive oil of a certain quality in a restaurant, you get exactly the one you are paying for."

But with the EU increasingly criticized as a meddling agency overriding national choice and preference, the ruling quickly was quickly attacked and ridiculed.

"They should let the people decide what olive oil bottles they want to use and not dictate uniformity from the centre," said Paul Nuttall, a member of the European parliament from Britain's UK Independence Party.

"This ridiculous move is even contrary to their often repeated call in favour of reusing goods," he said.

The European Commission said that a majority of the 27 member nations backed the move. It has already been compulsory in Portugal since 2006, despite grumbling from restaurant owners early on.

The Commission currently has no plans to impose similar rules on packaging for butter, salt, pepper or any other dinner table staples.

Olive oil is a product which has been prone to widespread fraud in the EU, when cheap produce is sometimes passed off as high-end extra virgin oil from the top regions.

With the move, the EU wants to make sure citizens can be guaranteed they have the exact product they asked for on their plate.

The EU also got backing from the continent-wide farmers' federation.

"This will ensure a high-quality product for consumers," said Rafael Sanchez de Puerta of the Copa-Cogecas federation. Also, by displaying the name, origins and storing conditions, "this will help to preserve the image of olive oil."

The EU is the world's biggest producer of olive oil, accounting for up to 70 per cent of global output, the Commission said.

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