Andalusian Minister Under Fire for Blaming Olive Oil Preservation, Not Fraud

The Andalusian Government is under harsh criticism from Spanish consumers, producers and journalists for failing to conclude an olive oil fraud investigation now nine months old.

The formal inquiry by the regional department of health began last November after analyses of 24 batches of olive oil on sale in Jaén and Córdoba indicated that, in 15, the contents were inferior to what was indicated on the labeling. In most cases this involved a lower quality oil being sold as extra virgin olive oil or virgin olive oil.

Last week Health and Consumer Affairs Minister María Jesús Montero announced that, while the inquiry was still underway, the investigators had found that in most cases the problem was not one of fraud but of poor preservation.

“The majority of the businesses have been able to show that at the time of bottling, the products were in the condition indicated in the labeling,” Montero said. According to Spanish newspaper El País, the minister went on to explain that, like wine, olive oil lost organoleptic qualities if not transported and stored in appropriate conditions including stable temperatures. She said the anomalies detected suggested the shortcoming lay in the distribution and sales chain.

“We are thinking of a campaign to advise consumers on how to check that the bottle they have selected for purchase has been correctly preserved,” she said. Montero refused to name the brands being investigated until the end of the inquiry.

Industry groups reacted angrily, saying the Minister’s comments, far from providing clarity, had created confusion and shown a failure to take seriously the possibility of fraud.

Rubén Sánchez, spokesman for consumer group Facua, told Europa Press that he could not understand why the inquiry was taking months when tests could be done in a matter of hours. He said that consumers deserved prompt and clear details of the results of the tests.

Secretary-general of agricultural union COAG-Jaén, Rafael Civantos, said he was astounded not only that it had taken nine months to get some information – after repeated calls for it from COAG – but that the message had been that it was not fraud, just incorrect preservation. “The government needs to take this matter, which equally affects agriculturalists and consumers, seriously. Furthermore, it needs to explain in detail the results of its testing.” Civantos also demanded that the names of the brands under investigation be made public.

Journalist Ginés Donaire, whose beat with El País includes the olive oil sector, tweeted on July 7, “Seven months have passed and the regional government is still yet to make public the names of the companies involved in the olive oil fraud. Who is it protecting?”

Last week, after Montero’s announcement, he tweeted: “If there’s no oil fraud, who’s going to pay for its deterioration on the shelves. Were nine months of investigation necessary for this?”

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This article was last updated January 5, 2015 - 7:57 AM (GMT-5)

  • Richard Gawel

    In my best Maxwell Smart voice – “Ahhh…  the old, things went wrong in storage trick”.

    Oils don’t go fusty in storage
    Oils don’t go musty in storage
    Oils don’t go winey in storage
    Acidity doesn’t rise substantially in storage
    Suspect sterols don’t change in storage

    …. Do I have to go on any further.

    The secrecy surrounding investigations such as these are symptomatic of the sad state of the olive oil industry in the EU. When you lose the ability to search within yourself then you are well on the road to self destruction.

    The days when we fell for the excuse that the systematic level of poor quality EVOO seen both within and outside the EU is the fault of poor storage during transport and retail is long gone. We’re not stupid! 

  • Nancyharmonjenkins

    Gawel’s point is a good one. But it is also true that faulty post-production handling of olive oil at all points, from the shipper to the importer to the distributor to the retail merchant to the consumer, creates substantial problems. How many times have we seen displays of expensive, high-end extra-virgins in clear glass bottles — set up in sunny shop windows for all to admire? How many times tried to set the shop owner straight, only to be told that that’s the only way to market olive oil?

  • Doug Chapman

    The reason food companies do storage studies and shelf life testing is to ensure the labelling applies to the product that comes out of the bottle, not to the product that goes into the bottle. To me the Minister’s comments are weak.

  • jolyonwagg1

    Mm not surprised by Andalusia authories will take an eternity to process any kind of investigation??

  • Anonymous

    Regardless of the alleged outcome of the investigation. It is clear that the actual condition of the oil, faked or old, can no longer be independently verified. Time and obfuscation are not on the side of knowledge. I am sure the government of Andalusia is counting on that.

    The Minister’s comments are an attempt to appease consumers for a failed or fraudulently conducted investigation. My decades in politics have taught me that when an outcome is illogical and guarded that either someone or several someones dropped the ball and others are covering for them, or money talked louder than truth.