The primary objective of this study was to evaluate the effects of the organic loading rate on the performance of an up-flow anaerobic sludge blanket (UASB) reactor treating olive mill effluent (OME), based on the following indicators: (i) chemical oxygen demand (COD) removal efficiency; and (ii) effluent variability (phenol, suspended solids, volatile fatty acids, and pH stability). The UASB reactor was operated under different operational conditions (OLRs between 0.45 and 32 kg COD/m(3)center dot day) for 477 days. The results demonstrated that the UASB reactor could tolerate high influent COD concentrations. Removal efficiencies for the studied pollution parameters were found to be as follows: COD, 47 similar to 92%; total phenol, 34 similar to 75%; color, 6 similar to 46%; suspended solids, 34 similar to 76%. The levels of VFAs in the influent varied between 310 and 1,750 mg/L. Our measurements of the VFA levels indicated that some of the effluent COD could be attributed to VFAs (principally acetate, butyrate, iso-butyrate, and propionate) in the effluent, which occurred at levels between 345 and 2,420 mg/L. As the OLRs were increased, more VFAs were measured in the effluent. A COD removal efficiency of 90% could be achieved as long as OLR was kept at a level of less than 10 kg COD/m(3)center dot day. However, a secondary treatment unit for polishing purposes is necessary to comply with discharge standards.