EU drops mooted ban on olive oil in jugs in restaurants

Hard pressed to justify a proposition slammed by critics, the European Commission withdrew on Thursday a planned ban on restaurants serving olive oil in jugs on diners' tables pending consultations with the industry and consumers.

European Union Agriculture Commissioner Dacian Ciolos performed a U-turn that spawned a string of Twitter gags and reaction, but stuck to his line that restaurateurs are potentially misleading customers by pouring cheap or old oil into containers presented as new.

"We want to avoid consumers being tricked," said Ciolos of the rationale behind a decision announced last week but which had failed to muster a required vote in favour by a committee of agricultural experts. That meant it came back to the EU executive for a final say.

But Ciolos added: "Since Friday, I have seen and heard...strong views expressed by ... consumers."

He said he now recognised that the ban was "not formulated in such a way as to assemble widespread support.

"As a consequence, I am withdrawing the proposition."

Olive oil-producing countries from the southern Mediterranean were in favour of tightening the regulations to ensure oil was clearly labelled, whereas northen European countries -- consumers -- were against.

Ciolos said he would now put producers, traders, restaurateurs and diners "round the same table" in a bid to "find a better way".

Asked why he had not attempted to apply similar restrictions on wine in eateries, the Romanian Commissioner had this to say.

"I have rarely found an open bottle of wine served on my table."

Scottish MEP Alyn Smith, a member of the European Parliament committee tasked with monitoring this policy area, Tweeted that the "olive oil proposal was, after all, 'virgin' on the ridiculous."

An 'olive oil songbook' soon opened on the social media giant, highlights including puns such as 'Je Ne Vinaigrette Rien...'."

At a summit of EU leaders in Brussels on Wednesday, supposed to be about tax evasion, energy policy and responses to the Syrian civil war, British Prime Minister David Cameron took time out from weightier matters to tackle the slippery issue of olive oil.

"This is exactly the sort of thing that Europe shouldn't even be discussing," he said, quoted by London's Conservative-backing Daily Telegraph newspaper.

"It shouldn't even be on the table, to force a pun - so to speak."

A European Commission source told AFP that if Britain had not abstained in last week's vote, there would have been no possibility of the Brussels EU executive taking its widely-lampooned decision.

"The London government left the Commission without any choice," this source said over lunch.

The Commission has a long history of irritating consumers -- and hostile media -- with mind-bending regulatory changes, famously including the permitted shape of bananas or cucumbers available for sale going back to the late-1980s.

At one stage, Brussels ruled that bananas should be "free from malformation or abnormal curvature," although trade negotiations with central and southern American states saw the EU climb down on many such diktats.