Europe

More Claims of 'Made in Italy' Labeling Lies

Dec. 30, 2011
By Julie Butler

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China is scru­ti­niz­ing olive oil arriv­ing from Italy while Spain raises fears of wider market manip­u­la­tion in the wake of new claims of fraud involv­ing Italian olive oil.

The Shanghai Daily reported that entry-exit author­i­ties are “inspect­ing olive oil imported from Italy after the Italian agri­cul­ture fed­er­a­tion said unscrupu­lous pro­duc­ers were mixing in cheaper oil from Greece, Spain, Morocco and Tunisia and pass­ing it off as top-end extra virgin oil.”

And Spain’s El Pais quoted Clara Aguilera, agri­cul­ture min­is­ter in the Andalusian regional gov­ern­ment, as saying she fears Italy may be engag­ing in “stage-man­age­ment, as there are many vested inter­ests at play.” She also pointed to a pos­si­ble “strat­egy” to con­trol mar­kets and noted the weak­ness of Spain’s highly-frag­mented pro­duc­tion sector com­pared to Italy’s strong olive oil lobby, the paper reported.

Meanwhile, Rafael Civantos of the COAG farm­ers’ union in Spain said it’s “common knowl­edge” that Italy passes off Spanish olive oil as its own because “its fig­ures for olive oil pro­duc­tion, con­sump­tion and imports don’t add up.”

Rafael Civantos

It’s an issue that also raised eye­brows within the European Commission’s advi­sory group on olives and derived prod­ucts ear­lier in 2011. The min­utes note: “Concerning fig­ures on the Italian market, a dis­crep­ancy between pro­duc­tion fig­ures and esti­mated pro­duc­tion fig­ures (was) observed for which par­tic­i­pants asked for clar­i­fi­ca­tion. Moreover, a dif­fer­ence between the fig­ures pre­sented by the Commission and what is observed in the field was noted and voiced.”

And in its break­ing news arti­cle of the latest probes of Italian olive oil, Italy’s La Reppublica itself asked, “Why, in com­par­i­son with the 250,000 tons of olive oil we export, do we import 470,000? Where do they go? How are they mixed?”

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It’s a ques­tion, the news­pa­per reported, was being probed by Italian cus­toms agents, fraud squad detec­tives and finance police, with the help of Coldiretti, one of the coun­try’s main agri­cul­tural organizations.The inves­ti­ga­tion had already found that four out of five bot­tles of olive oil sold by Italy con­tain olive oil from other coun­tries, usu­ally from Spain, Tunisia, Greece or Morocco.

Coldiretti spokesman Stefano Masini said that given the extra­or­di­nary scale of the fraud it was time for the gov­ern­ment “to act against the agro­mafia with new mea­sures.” “This is not just about simple sales fraud, it involves crim­i­nal orga­ni­za­tions that con­trol prices and manage the entire chain from pro­duc­tion to dis­tri­b­u­tion,” he said.

News of the probe has pro­voked inter­na­tional debate among con­sumers and pro­duc­ers, such as at the UK’s Telegraph, which reported: “Four out of five bot­tles of ‘Italian’ olive oil are being adul­ter­ated with lower qual­ity oil from other Mediterranean coun­tries.”

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But Rafael Sánchez de Puerta, pres­i­dent of the EU farm­ing lobby Copa-Cogeca’s work­ing group on olive oil and table olives, stressed that the issue was more one of label­ing than of qual­ity.

“Everyone knew” that Italy bot­tled and exported more olive oil than it pro­duced but any alleged fraud involved claims of the “denom­i­na­tion (of origin), not of the qual­ity” of the oil, he said.

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