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A Slippery Slope: Measuring the Quality of Extra Virgin Olive Oil and Translation
Posted by Donald A. DePalma on February 2, 2016  in the following blogs: Supplier Business Issues, Translation and Localization
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In 2015 the Italian Nuclei Antisofistacazioni e Sanità (NAS), a special unit of the Italian carabinieri, began investigating the sale of virgin olive oil labeled as the more expensive extra virgin olive oil. Meanwhile, Italy's anti-trust authority, L'Autorità Garante della Concorrenza e del Mercato, conducted its own inquiries into the fraudulent mislabeling of Italian olive oil. Subjective tastings by human investigators – rather than chemical tests – led to the allegations of fraud. 

What's the problem? The University of California at Davis found in 2010 that 69% of imported extra virgin olive oil and 10% of California samples failed to meet the International Olive Council's (IOC) standard for acidity and taste. This means that consumers aren't getting what they pay for, that leading olive oil producers allegedly mislabel cheaper oils and profit from it, and that subjective tests – rather than scientific, automated ones – determine the outcomes.  Meanwhile, the expected initiation of the World Olive Oil Trade Group, representing American olive oil producers, will create a rival to the IOC that may develop competing specifications for extra virgin olive oil. 

Except for the carabinieri SWAT team, this story sounded familiar to us. Consider the unending debate about translation quality in the language sector: Deliverables don't meet client expectations, providers skip critical steps and thus taint seemingly comparable projects, international standards bodies offer competing standards and solutions, and subjective assessments are more commonplace than scientific or automated ones. 

CSA Research recently reviewed these concerns in "How to Assess Translation Quality," in which we analyzed holistic, analytic, and automatic assessment methods. We drilled down into the pros, cons, and customizability of six methods, including legacy checklists (LISA QA and SAE J2450) as well as emerging standards (ITS 2.0, TAUS DQF, MQM, and LQA ASTM WK46397). We analyzed the harmonized DQF and MQM approach that resulted from the European QT21 project. We checked various ways of assessing machine translation (BLEU, METEOR, and NIST), quality assessment in proprietary tools, and automated quality checkers (Acrolinx, Okapi Checkmate, QA Distiller, and ApSIC Xbench). Based on this analysis, we suggest six critical questions to ask when selecting an assessment method or tool, and recommend the best model. 

In summary, various standards-setting organizations are addressing a problem that has long vexed buyers who don't get what they pay for. Meanwhile, suppliers compete with global rivals that operate under the rules of engagement that make the most sense for them and their markets. The language services industry mirrors the olive oil market – and many other areas of human endeavor. Objective standards agreed to by both buyers and suppliers will benefit both the translation and olive oil sectors. And with California's entry into the market, we look forward to the cinematic depiction of global olive oil rivalry along the lines of "Bottle Shock" that documented the 1976 "Judgment of Paris" wine competition. 


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