EU protects citizens from dangers of unregulated olive oil bottles

The reusable olive oil bottle -- a staple on restaurant tables across Europe, evocative of summers in Tuscany and vineyards in southern Spain -- has been banned from restaurants by the powers that be in Brussels, in a move the European Commission has sought to frame as a consumer protection measure. Critics, however, see it as an attempt to prop up a struggling olive oil industry and representative of the European Union's bureaucratic overreach.

Reusable bottles, the Commission claims, are unhygienic, and there's a risk that they could be refilled with unknown, cheap, and low-quality oils. The AP has more

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

Many, however, are unconvinced.

"With the euro crisis, a collapse in confidence in the EU, and a faltering economy, surely the commission has more important things to worry about than banning refillable olive oil bottles?" inquired one British member of the European Parliament. Germany's Suddeutsche Zeitung newspaper, meanwhile, called the regulations the "silliest" rules since the EU's infamous attempt to regulate the curvature of cucumbers.

Of course, the requirement that olive oil must be served in pre-packaged factory bottles, with tamper-proof nozzles and standardized labeling, is the sort of regulation that people love to mock. And others have voiced the more serious concern that, by placing an emphasis on standardized packaging, the regulations could help out large-scale olive oil producers -- many of which are located in some of Europe's weakest economies -- at the expense of smaller farms.

But consumers could actually use more protection when it comes to olive oil. The staple is one of the most fraud-prone agricultural products in Europe, in part because it's so much more valuable than other forms of oil and remains relatively easy to doctor with cheaper products like soybean and other seed oil. ("Profits were comparable to cocaine trafficking, with none of the risks," one investigator told writer Tom Mueller, who later went on to write a book about olive oil fraud). The EU, in fact, has an olive-oil task force dedicated solely to stopping trafficking in dodgy extra-virgin.

Still, this kind of large-scale fraud takes place at the level of producers and bottlers -- not at the restaurant table. 



Everything you need to know about Saturday's Eurovision final

On Saturday night, Europe will grind to a halt to mark its annual celebration of the cheesy and the saccharine: the Eurovision finals. This year, the singing competition is being held in the southern Swedish city of Malmo, and the field features the typical collection of over-the-top Europop, earnest acts, and strange sub-plots (the bassist in the Swiss act is 95 years old). 

The competition was first held in 1956 and conceived as a way of bringing Europeans together around an entertainment program. That hasn't exactly happened, and every year the competition is riven by petty national rivalries. The Scandinavian, Balkan, and former Soviet countries vote for each other, and the Greeks and Cypriots refuse to vote for the Turks.

Politics also tends to rear its head outside the venue. This year, for instance, there were calls to boycott Israel's inclusion in the contest. And last year, controversy erupted when Azerbaijan, that year's host, arrested a group of 50 anti-government protesters hoping to use the competition to draw attention to government abuses.

This year, the hottest political story involves a lesbian kiss in the Finnish act. Finland's parliament recently decided not to take up a bill legalizing same-sex marriage, and Krista Siegfrids plans to kiss one of her dancers on stage as an act of protest (her song, "Marry Me," seems at first blush to be about a woman desperate for a proposal from her boyfriend, but she's now conveniently turned it into a more subversive message).

But let's face it: The real draw isn't politics -- it's the outlandish performances. Without further ado, here are the 10 best (or worst, depending on your perspective) acts this year.

Denmark: One of the favorites to win this year. Note the totally earnest, totally awful tin whistle in the opening (thanks to reader FranzLiebkind for identifying the instrument).

Ukraine: Being carried onstage by a giant is certainly one way to start a performance.

Montenegro: Techno-dubstep astronaut rap, where have you been all my life?! Sadly, the act didn't make the finals.

Ireland: Embodying every bad trend in European music, complete with shirtless, tattooed drummer-dancers.

Latvia: These guys didn't make the finals, but I love them.

Macedonia: Is this the most unlikely looking duet in the history of Eurovision? I'm not sure, but I find it rather endearing.

Greece: Ska lives!

Norway: One of the other favorites to win this year.

Finland: Providing the hot political story of the year via a lesbian kiss protest.

Albania: Just the worst.