Europe

More Mislabeled Oil and Dangerous Colored Olives Seized in Italian Raids

Feb. 4, 2016
By Ylenia Granitto

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Italian author­i­ties blocked the sale of more than 2,000 tons of olive oil falsely labeled as Italian during an oper­a­tion code­named “Mamma Mia.”

Raids were car­ried out by the Central Inspectorate for the pro­tec­tion of qual­ity and fraud pre­ven­tion of food prod­uct (ICQRF) of the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Forestry, coor­di­nated by the Prosecutor of Trani Antonio Savasta, in col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Financial Police of Andria (Apulia), Crotone and Gioia Tauro (Calabria),

Our first goal is to defend con­sumers from frauds and make room in the market for the pro­duc­ers who work hon­estly.- Minister of Agriculture Maurizio Martina

The fraud ring, with an esti­mated illicit turnover of €13 mil­lion ($14.5 mil­lion), involved false doc­u­men­ta­tion attest­ing the Italian origin of extra virgin olive oil that was, in fact, Spanish and Greek.

Sixteen seizures were con­ducted in Apulia, Calabria and Umbria, where bot­tlers seemed to be unaware buyers of the fake Italian olive oil. Eight people are now under inves­ti­ga­tion for food fraud and tax eva­sion.

Through a metic­u­lous recon­struc­tion of doc­u­ments, the inves­ti­ga­tors of ICQRF dis­cov­ered that in 2014 and 2015 the incrim­i­nated sub­jects dis­posed of the olive oil through fic­ti­tious sales with the col­lab­o­ra­tion of com­plaisant Italian and for­eign oper­a­tors. Foreign con­trol bodies con­sulted by the Central Investigative Unit of ICQRF con­firmed the fic­ti­tious trans­ac­tions and the hypoth­e­sis of the inves­ti­ga­tion.
See more: Articles on Olive Oil Fraud
“We blocked another attack to Italian olive oil thanks to the pro­fes­sion­al­ism and exper­tise of our ICQRF inspec­tors,” said Minister of Agriculture Maurizio Martina. “Today’s action is part of a pre­ven­tion and coun­ter­ac­tion strat­egy that we are increas­ingly strength­en­ing. Over the last 24 months we have car­ried out more than 12,500 inspec­tions in the olive oil sector, fol­low­ing the olive oil path in the whole supply chain and often pre­vent­ing that for­eign prod­ucts were sold as 100% Italian,” Martina said. “We must not lower our guard, and we have increased mon­i­tor­ing in the main arrival points. Our first goal is to defend con­sumers from frauds and make room in the market for the pro­duc­ers who work hon­estly.”

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A few hours later, another oper­a­tion in the olive oil sector was con­ducted by the State Forestry Corps, directed by the General Giuseppe Silletti, of the Regional Command of Apulia and of the CTA (Regional Coordination for the Environment) of Altamura-Alta Murgia National Park. The agents seized over 10 tons of col­ored table olives con­sid­ered a health hazard. Eighteen are now under inves­ti­ga­tion for trade in haz­ardous food sub­stances and pro­duc­tion of food with chem­i­cal addi­tives not autho­rized by law.

The color was applied in order to hide the flaws of the olives using a copper chloro­phyllin com­plex, a food sub­stance clas­si­fied by the EU as col­or­ing E141, pro­hib­ited both by Italian and European leg­is­la­tion, and the copper sul­fate, which is harm­ful to human health. In some cases the pres­ence of the illicit sub­stances was detected in the pro­duc­tion areas, while in others, it was found in sam­ples of olives ana­lyzed by the lab­o­ra­tory of ICQRF in Perugia (Umbria).

The agents also found ‘Made in Italy’ vio­la­tions (Spanish and Greek olives sold as if they were from Apulia), fraud­u­lent use of the Nocellara PGI origin des­ig­na­tion and improper han­dling and stor­age of food.

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The activ­i­ties are part of a national pro­gram to con­trol table olives car­ried out by the State Forestry Corps, which in Apulia inspected more than 50 com­pa­nies, reported 23 alleged vio­la­tors, seized more than 5,500 tons of table olives and imposed over €10,000 ($11,176) of admin­is­tra­tive sanc­tions.

The agri­cul­tural asso­ci­a­tion Confagricoltura Puglia urged the insti­tu­tions to con­tinue such efforts: “We fully sup­port the work done by the judi­ciary in this dif­fi­cult day for the Apulian olive oil sector. In defense of the honest com­pa­nies in our ter­ri­tory, which are the major­ity, we hope that this time the inves­ti­ga­tions lead to a defin­i­tive and sub­stan­tial out­come,” said the asso­ci­a­tion’s pres­i­dent, Donato Rossi.

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“We once again have to deal with tons and tons of coun­ter­feit oil, mil­lions of euros went up in smoke, dozens of people inves­ti­gated. We there­fore ask to the judi­ciary and the super­vi­sory bodies for a more coor­di­nated, strong and deter­mined action in order to reach sig­nif­i­cant results.”