Spanish Supermarket Chain Alcampo Accused of Olive Oil Fraud

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By Sarah Schwager
Olive Oil Times Contributor | Reporting from Buenos Aires

The crackdown on olive oil fraud is gaining pace, with a big name Spanish retailer named this week for labeling its store brand olive oil “extra virgin” when it actually contains a mixture of refined oil and virgin olive oil.

Supermarket chain Alcampo will be penalized after it was exposed by the Coordinator of Organizations of Farmers and Cattlemen (COAG) for giving consumers misleading information by marking its Auchan brand three- and five-liter bottles “extra virgin”.

The Andalusian Administration has already recalled 2,241 five-liter bottles and 88 three-liter bottles from the company’s Alcampo de Linares stores in Jaén, amounting to 11,464 liters of oil.

According to Europa Press, the investigation into the supermarket giant began in February when COAG filed a complaint with Consumer Services at Jaén’s Regional Health Authority, prompting samples to be sent to Agri-Food Laboratories in Córdoba and Atarfe, Granada.

Consumer Services found Alcampo accountable for two offenses – one for developing and distributing goods without complying with the duties of information, and the other for defrauding by weight, measure or quality of goods offered.

The first of these violations, which was initially classed as mild, has become serious “due to the lack of the most fundamental duties of due diligence and for its impact on the market”, the record says.

Each offense could be punishable by a fine of anywhere between 5,001 and 30,000 euros (US$6,725-$40,345).

The concerted effort by the Spanish watchdogs is good news for makers of true extra virgin olive oil and campaigners of enforcing worldwide olive oil standards.

Watching Australia

The global olive oil industry is already watching as Australia gets set to put a new olive standard to public consultation in an attempt to keep mislabeled olive oils off the shelves.

Standards Australia, the Australian Olive Association, retailers, consumer associations, government bodies and growers are currently helping develop the Australian Standard after a couple of recent studies revealed up to half of imported extra virgin oils carried inaccurate labeling and didn’t meet international standards[1].

If the Australian Standard is introduced it could put an end to the free reign foreign companies have had in the Australian market, and could potentially reduce overall imports from old world producers.

It may also see other big olive oil importing countries follow suit, such as the USA, which recently released its Standards for Grades of Olive Oil and Olive Pomace Oil. Currently, the standards follow much the same lines as those of the International Olive Council (IOC).

The IOC, while it defines the standard, does not enact any enforcement of the standard nor does it have the power to force a country to impose the standards. It is up to that country’s government to decide whether or not it wants to act.

Spain’s Department of Consumer Affairs has informed Alcampo of its proposed penalty, taking the company’s cooperation into account, but says it is not yet final as the company still has the right to appeal.


[1] Study by the New South Wales Department of Primary Industry, July 2010; Survey by Australian consumer group Choice, July 2010.

 


This article was last updated March 18, 2011 - 12:06 PM (GMT-5)

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  • Phyllis Heard

    Here in NZ we are also watching Australia with interest. We have a free trade agreement with Australia. What happens in Australia also applies to this country and conversely. The Supermarkets in New Zealand are controlled by a a duopoly with Australian control. It is nearly impossible to get locally grown extra virgin olive oil onto the Australian owned supermarket shelves because they are dominated by extra virgin oils that state on the label they are from Australia,Italy and Spain

    Customs and excise figures show that there is considerably more Australian extra virgin olive oil imported into New Zealand than is sold as branded Australian product.This can either mean NZ producers are buying bulk Australian Extra Virgin oil and not stating it on their labels or importers are selling Australian oil under Italian and Spanish labels.Could it be both? It will be interesting to find out.

    Bulk extra virgin olive oil can wholesale in Australia for $3.00 to $4.00 a liter. It is impossible for any NZ grower to produce an oil for that price. The oil tests well below EU trade standards although it will probably meet ONZ requirements which are a minimal FFA and peroxide test and an organoleptic test that meets IOC standard but creates considerable legal concerns as Olive oil importers are members of this sensory panel.

    ONZ historical focus has been on only the sensory aspects of Extra Virgin Olive Oil which is holding standards in the industry up considerably and covertly allowing cheap inferior imports to keep market share driving NZ growers to the wall.The ONZ Quality Sticker has no real meaning as growers know it has no legal teeth and ONZ does not police it in any way.The Cawthron Institute in New Zealand has the capacity to test to EU Trade standards and has been able to do so for a considerable time.The olive oil importers on our sensory panel are more than happy to keep standards to a minimum.

    Random testing of several Imported products paid for by Marlborough Growers show they do not meet IOC trade standards both by organoleptic and by chemical analysis. Concern has also been raised as sensory tests indicate what is in the bottle in Australia does not compare with what is in the bottle here in New Zealand.Are we getting aged product here or is it simply oxidizing far quicker than NZ extra virgin oil? Should a case be taken to the NZ Commerce Commission?

    Sensory panels in both countries and their composition and establishment history will come under close scrutiny by the legal profession if a NZ grower approaches The Commerce Commission.The NZ and Australian Food safety law and food labeling law will be closely scrutinized too. Under NZ law The NZ Commerce Commission requires that the onus of proof rests with the importer and the producer.Legal expenses for both parties rest with them too if they are found to breach standards.This raises the question of which standards will they use as a benchmark, Australian, New Zealand, or the EU? This also raises a concern regarding AOA certification as the bottles to be reviewed wear their sticker.

    The NZ Commerce Commission need only work on the complaint of a single grower as collusion among growers can be interpreted as “price fixing” or an unfair trade practice. Ironic, given the structure of our Supermarket trade.Taking an Australian importer or Grower to The NZ Commerce Commission will impact on many in the horticultural industry in New Zealand and ensure a raising of standards and help combat unfair trade practices. There is much support for this move at many levels.

    We have had all our oils tested to International Trade standards and are very pleased with the results.