Olive Oil Tales Of Adulteration

The adulteration of oil can be no more serious than passing off inferior, but safe, product as superior olive oil, but there are no guarantees. It is believed that almost 700 people died as a consequence of consuming rapeseed oiladulterated with aniline intended for use as an industrial lubricant, but sold in 1981 as olive oil in Spain (see toxic oil syndrome).[33]

There have been allegations that regulation, particularly in Italy and Spain, is extremely lax and corrupt. Major Italian and Spanish shippers are claimed to routinely adulterate olive oil and that only about 40% of olive oil sold as “extra virgin” actually meets the specification.[34] In some cases, colza oil (Swedish turnip) with added color and flavor has been labeled and sold as olive oil.[35] This extensive fraud prompted the Italian government to mandate a new labeling law in 2007 for companies selling olive oil, under which every bottle of Italian olive oil would have to declare the farm and press on which it was produced, as well as display a precise breakdown of the oils used, for blended oils.[36] In February 2008, however, EU officials took issue with the new law, stating that under EU rules such labeling should be voluntary rather than compulsory.[37] Under EU rules, olive oil may be sold as Italian even if it only contains a small amount of Italian oil.[36]

In March 2008, 400 Italian police officers conducted “Operation Golden Oil”, arresting 23 people and confiscating 85 farms after an investigation revealed a large-scale scheme to relabel oils from other Mediterranean nations as Italian.[38]In April 2008, another operation impounded seven olive oil plants and arrested 40 people in nine provinces of northern and southern Italy for adding chlorophyll to sunflower and soybean oil, and selling it as extra virgin olive oil, both in Italy and abroad; 25,000 liters of the fake oil were seized and prevented from being exported.[39]

On March 15, 2011, the Florence, Italy prosecutor’s office, working in conjunction with the forestry department, indicted two managers and an officer of Carapelli, one of the brands of the Spanish company Grupo SOS (which recently changed its name to Deoleo). The charges involved falsified documents and food fraud. Carapelli lawyer Neri Pinucci said the company was not worried about the charges and that “the case is based on an irregularity in the documents.”[40]

On February 2012 an alleged international olive oil scam in which palm, avocado, sunflower and other cheaper oils were passed off as olive oil were released by Spanish police. They said the oils were blended in an industrial biodiesel plant and adulterated in a way to hide markers that would have revealed their true nature. The oils were not toxic, however, and posed no health risk, according to a statement by the Guardia Civil. Nineteen people were arrested following the year-long joint probe by the police and Spanish tax authorities, part of what they call Operation Lucerna.[41]

Two diametrically opposed trends exist in the olive-oil business. In the first, toward high quality olive oil, new milling technologies such as stainless steel mills, high speed centrifuges, temperature and oxygen controlled storage tanks are making it possible to produce the best extra-virgin olive oils in history; fresh, complex and every bit as varied as wine varietals. (There are about seven hundred different kinds of olives.) Consumer demand for high-quality olive oil in all of its variety, both in Europe and in North America, is increasing.

On the other hand, there’s a strong downward pressure on olive-oil quality, especially among the huge Spanish owned olive-oil traders and bottling companies (which also control biggest Italian brands). There is a massive output of low grade olive oils, particularly in Spain and North Africa, which producers are selling as “extra virgin” olive oil, even though this low grade oil doesn’t meet the requirements of the extra-virgin grade. (E.U. and U.S. trade standards require extra-virgin olive oil to be free of sensory defects and these oils are deeply flawed.) New methods of chemical refinement, commonly known as “deodorization,” allow unscrupulous producers to remove sensory defects and sell their sub-par oils, illegally, as extra-virgin. (By law, extra-virgin olive oil cannot have undergone chemical manipulation.). In Spain refineries are capable to cope with this technology. In 2012 The spot price of “extra-virgin olive oil” in European markets has dropped as low as 1.8 euro per kilo (about a liter). Honest producers around the world are being undercut by cheap foreign oil.[42]