The CBS News magazine ‘60 Minutes’ aired a segment on mafia involvement in Italian agriculture tonight, introducing millions of viewers to the shady underworld of the olive oil trade and casting a fresh pall of suspicion over the “Made in Italy” brand.
“Mafia copies of fine olive oil, wine and cheese have fueled an explosion of food crime in Italy,” said CBS News correspondent, Bill Whitaker.
In addition to a conversation with Italian investigator Sergio Tirro, whose team of 60 trained tasters are able to detect counterfeit olive oils “at first sip,” the report featured an interview with Tom Mueller, the author of the Extra Virginity exposé.
See more: The World's Best Olive Oils, Official NYIOOC Ranking
“You in many cases are getting lower grade olive oil that has been blended with some good extra virgin olive oil…you’re sometimes getting deodorized oil,” Mueller said. “They blend it with some oil that has some character to give it a little color, a little flavor…and they sell that as extra virgin. It’s illegal – it happens all the time.”
Before an estimated 12 million viewers who had just watched the Denver Broncos defeat the San Diego Chargers in a close late-season football game, Tirro demonstrated how easy it is to counterfeit extra virgin olive oil.
Taking a vial of colorless, odorless sunflower oil, he added a few drops of chlorophyll. “It becomes the color of olive oil,” Tirro said. It’s as simple as that.
Sicilian olive oil producer, Nicola Clemenza, is leading a 200-farmer uprising against mafia control in the region.
“On the day I started the consortium, they burned my car, they burned down part of my home and I was inside with my wife and my daughter,” Clemenza said.
Mueller said mafia control pervades the food supply in Italy, and described its impact on olive oil in the bleakest terms: “It’s very difficult to say in any given case with olive oil exactly how many drops in a given bottle actually have Mafia blood on them.”
See more: Listen to an Interview with Tom Mueller on the 'On Olive Oil' Podcast
When Whitaker asked how much of the olive oil labeled “extra virgin” that reaches Americans is really not extra virgin, Mueller responded, “75% to 80%, easily.”
CBS News shipped 3 bottles of olive oil found in an unnamed American supermarket to Tirro’s tasting panel: Only one was found to be extra virgin.
“They described one as lampante — the lowest quality olive oil. That brand happens to be one of the best-selling in America,” Whitaker said.