The millions of deaths of hundreds of songbird species during the olive harvest each year is a subject of growing public awareness. Like many of you, we were barely aware of it. Our distance from such events, both geographically and in terms of content, is too great.
Many customers, partners, friends, and relatives have drawn our attention to countless reports in the past few months, have asked us for advice or even demanded guarantees from us that we and our OEL are not part of this subject. During our research on this subject, deliberately chosen as the first chapter of this journal, we discovered how complex it is – and so how difficult it is to analyze. But we dare to try:
The olive tree as habitat
Olive groves are true oases of biodiversity in the otherwise barren agricultural monoculture deserts. Leading researchers from southern European universities have been trying for decades to take a well-founded inventory in order to achieve legal protection for these oases and their sustainable management. Certainly, hundreds of European bird species use olive groves as a retreat. This is because the original olive groves are home to thousands of flowering wild herbs and thus attract pollinating insects, which in turn are an optimal source of food for the bird species. With this chain of conditions, olive groves are among the most important cultural landscapes for the protection of southern European biodiversity.
Spain – the world’s biggest producer
With around 300 million olive trees and an annual production of around 1.79 million tons of olive oil (as of 2018/19), Spain is the world’s largest producer of olive oils and, if you consider the above-mentioned facts, it should be the purest ecological paradise. The reality, however, is completely different.
In Spain, olive groves have been cultivated in the style of industrialized agriculture for decades. This means that olive trees are planted tightly in rows for optimal use of the limited areas and reduced to bush size through targeted regular trimming to enable a fully automated cost-saving harvest. Even the most trained eyes have to look several times at these groves in order to sense in these identical avenues the beginnings of the actual splendor, power, and strength of the ever-varying olive trees.
“Bloody olive oil”
Between September and November, millions of European migratory birds make a stopover in southern Europe or even settle down to overwinter. This is also the time of year for the olive harvest. Due to the drive for efficiency, competition, time pressure, falling prices, and immense costs, the decision is often made to operate super-intensive cultivation and subsequently a fully automated extraction of the olives. This fully automatic extraction is carried out by so-called stilt tractors.
The olive harvest is all about the olive’s degree of ripeness and so about the olive oil’s optimal taste. Especially among industrial Spanish farmers, the view has spread that the comparatively low temperatures at night favor the olive oil’s optimal taste. And the huge stilt tractors work their way through the alleys of the olive groves at night, with their headlights catching and paralyzing the migratory birds nesting in the trees, before the birds are fatally sucked out of the trees with the olives.
Thanks to the stilt tractors, there is no need for cost-intensive human labor, and an economically viable olive oil can be produced. To the chagrin of the millions of migratory birds.
Who is responsible for this problem? Is it the farmers with their machines? Is it primarily the German discounter supermarkets who are placing the burdern of their competition on the shoulders of the producers? Is it the laws? Or is it the migratory birds themselves? After all, they could just sit in another tree.
We believe that the migratory birds are definitely not to blame. The laws of the European Union allow too much scope for interpretation, so that machines such as the stilt tractor are permitted even in organically certified processing. The mainly German discounter supermarkets put the burden of their feuds on the shoulders of the producers and spoil people’s sense for realistic product prices with prices of less than 1 euro. In addition, the ongoing “organic boom” means that that collective price pressure is becoming common practice even in organic retail. > ORGANIC< was created several decades ago to allow a life in harmony with nature, to guarantee the preservation of small-scale agriculture, and to ensure a balanced and trusting relationship between producer and consumer with fair production conditions.
But we digress: for we are all responsible for what happens to the migratory birds in southern Europe every year. With our buying behavior, we decide how we respond to such problems.
Conclusion: Don’t just talk, take action. To save hundreds of songbird populations, this means:
Because only a law that forbids harvesting at night will help! The birds could recognize the danger early on and would flee and thus survive.
II. https://www.focus.de/wissen/ernte-in-der-nacht-millionen-voegel-sterben-damit-unsere-oliven- besonders-gut-schmecken_id_10781569.html
V. https://www.change.org/p/deoleo-ein-ende-für-den-millionenfachen-vogelmord-durch-die- olivenernte
VI. https://www.stern.de/panorama/wissen/olivenoel—warum-millionen-singvoegel-fuer-unser- oel-sterben-muessen-8735660.html