Photo: Corpo Forestale dello Stato

A massive fraud was unmasked between Brindisi and Bari, Italy by the State Forestry Corps, and the District Anti-Mafia Directorate (DDA) of Bari, which discovered that 7,000 tons of olive oil sold as ‘100% Italian’ extra virgin olive oil were actually blended oils from non-EU countries such as Syria, Turkey, Morocco and Tunisia.

Six people were investigated for commercial fraud and counterfeiting geographical indications or designations of origin of agricultural food products. The checks covered a dozen companies in Apulia (in Fasano, Grumo Appula and Monopoli) and one certification laboratory.

The oil was sold on the Italian and international markets, in US and Japan, with the statement ‘100 percent Italian’ on the label for an illicit turnover estimated to be in the “tens of millions of euros,” according to the Forestry Corps.

The investigation by the DDA in Bari was launched following the poor 2014 harvest and the opportunity the limited supply of Italian olive oils presented for unlawful trade.

Investigators at the Agrifood and Forestry Nucleus (NAF) in Rome, specialized in the fight against food fraud, turned to the Institute of Biosciences and Bioresources (CNR-IBBR) of Perugia.

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CNR-IBBR Researcher Luciana Baldoni

The research team, led by Luciana Baldoni, established the geographical origin of the olive oil through molecular analysis made possible through an innovative technique of DNA extraction.

The results of the analysis, crossed with those on traceability derived from computer records, allowed investigators to ensure that the thousands of tons of olive oil were not Italian but obtained from non-European olive varieties.

One hundred officers and investigators were involved in investigations, blitzes, and seizures of several lots of counterfeited olive oil.

“The operation of the State Forestry Corps demonstrates the effectiveness of our system of investigation, that we have reinforced in all steps of the supply chain,” the minister of agriculture and forestry, Maurizio Martina said.

“Who harms the strategic sector of olive oil must be condemned with the utmost strictness. It is important to protect consumers and the thousands of honest companies that contribute to the success of ‘Made in Italy’ in the world.”

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