Olive Oil Products Fraud Uncovered in China

Growing demand has also spurred illegal operations stretching from Beijing to Guangzhou, churning out mislabeled, inferior and counterfeit olive oil.

Apr. 9, 2018
By Shannon Roxborough

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China Cen­tral Tele­vi­sion (CCTV), the state-run broad­caster, has reported that an inspec­tion by the Food Safety Office in Fujian Province, on Chi­na’s south­east­ern coast, has uncov­ered a fraud scheme in which three Chi­nese cook­ing-oil com­pa­nies deceived cus­tomers by inten­tion­ally mis­la­bel­ing blended oil prod­ucts by over­stat­ing the per­cent­age of olive oil they con­tained.

My bot­tom line is that no one will die from eat­ing this. I can live with my con­science.- Luo Dingfa, Xihai Grains, Oils and Food Com­pany

Jinong Food Com­pany, whose cook­ing oil was labeled six per­cent olive oil, was found to con­tain only three per­cent. Oil pro­duced by Tian­shun Grains & Oils Com­pany also adver­tised six per­cent olive oil, but actu­ally con­tained two per­cent. And Xihai Grains, Oils and Food Com­pany, sold a prod­uct said to have five per­cent olive oil, which retailed for less than half the cost of sim­i­lar prod­ucts by com­pa­ra­ble brands, call­ing its authen­tic­ity into ques­tion. Some prod­ucts were labeled extra vir­gin oil” in large char­ac­ters, with blended oil” in the fine print.

China over­hauled its food safety reg­u­la­tions after a series of domes­tic and inter­na­tional food scares, ill­nesses and deaths. But food-label­ing fraud remains wide­spread in the coun­try, a fact reflected in the offend­ing com­pany rep­re­sen­ta­tives’ atti­tudes toward wrong­do­ing.

Olive oil is very expen­sive,” said Li Mingyu, gen­eral man­ager at Tian­shun. You can’t expect a lot with the price we are sell­ing for.”

Luo Dingfa, direc­tor of sales at Xihai, viewed the sit­u­a­tion with equal dis­re­gard: My bot­tom line is that no one will die from eat­ing this. I can live with my con­science.”

The China Food and Drug Admin­is­tra­tion (CFDA), which reg­u­lates food label­ing, has imposed stricter rules to make it more dif­fi­cult to inflate nutri­tional claims on labels. The law pro­hibits the use of larger and col­ored text to mis­lead con­sumers and, in the case of valu­able com­modi­ties like olive oil, prod­ucts must include the per­cent­age of the char­ac­ter­iz­ing ingre­di­ent.

Hybrid oils have been embraced in China, the United States and other coun­tries, who say blended olive oils are fine, as long as con­sumers know exactly what they are get­ting. But Europe has been less wel­com­ing. The Euro­pean Com­mis­sion’s Advi­sory Group on Olives and Derived Prod­ucts has said that prod­ucts offer­ing a mix of olive oil and other oils pose a risk to qual­ity and trans­parency in the indus­try.

Chi­na’s impor­ta­tion of olive oil has increased sig­nif­i­cantly in recent years, as wealthy Chi­nese con­sumers in search of pre­mium Euro­pean prod­ucts have rapidly switched to olive oil for cook­ing, cre­at­ing a brisk trade in bot­tles from Spain, Italy and Greece.

Grow­ing demand has also spurred ille­gal oper­a­tions stretch­ing from Bei­jing to Guangzhou churn­ing out out­dated, mis­la­beled, infe­rior and coun­ter­feit olive oil.

Last July, police in Shang­hai charged five peo­ple with ille­gally sell­ing olive oil with forged expi­ra­tion dates, includ­ing Ital­ian brands Clemente and San Giu­liano, and Span­ish brand Natura. Author­i­ties seized 10,000 bot­tles val­ued at $1.32 mil­lion; the sus­pects had already sold expired oil to deal­ers in a dozen provinces and cities across the coun­try.

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