Olive Oil Scandal Uncovered in France

120 tons of Spanish olives were milled in Provence and sold with the prestigious AOP labels of the region.

Aug. 11, 2016
By Claire Ngonga-Gicquel

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Another major olive oil scan­dal, this time in France, was reported by La Provence, in the famous Provence region known as being one of the best for qual­ity olive oil pro­duc­tion.

According to the report, between September 2014 and January 2015, 120 tons of Spanish olives were intro­duced in the mills in the region before the oil pro­duced was put in bot­tles and sold under pres­ti­gious labels and enti­tled to the AOP (appel­la­tion d’o­rig­ine pro­tégée) des­ig­na­tion that is sup­posed to cer­tify the ori­gin of the prod­ucts.
See Also: Articles on Olive Oil Fraud
In the small town Mouriès, a man finally admit­ted his guilt, explain­ing that he wanted to make ille­gal prof­its after the rav­ages caused by the olive fruit fly. He decided to import and mix the olives from Provence with some from Andalusia (Spain) with the help of another man.

The Spanish olives were brought to nine dif­fer­ent mills in three areas: five in the Bouches-du-Rhône, one between Arles and Lancon-Provence, three in the Var and Gard.

Once pressed, the Spanish olives were sold under three dif­fer­ent labels: AOP Vallée des Baux, AOP Provence and Olives françaises. What was also being inves­ti­gated was whether the mills, some of which are well-known, dealt with the sus­pect know­ingly.

Lying about the ori­gin of olives leads to fraud in France” said one per­son who is close to the case. In five months, the oper­a­tion was believed to have gen­er­ated €300,000 ($334,663) in sales.

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It is quite pos­si­ble that millers have shut their eyes on the ori­gin of the olives. With the dam­age caused by the olives flies, it thus suited every­one,” com­mented one per­son work­ing on the case. Spanish olives are a frac­tion of the cost of the local French ones.

Theoretically, a seller must pro­vide the mill with a plot state­ment which brings a guar­an­tee to the ori­gin of his goods. The sus­pect, who knew the mar­ket quite well but was not grow­ing his own olives, used an old doc­u­ment from some­one else.

Even though the fraud is seri­ous, it could only affect 7 or 8 per­cent of the total vol­ume of oil,” said Olivier Nasles, the pres­i­dent of Afidol (the inter-pro­fes­sion olive oil asso­ci­a­tion in France).

There have been sev­eral fraud cases like this one in France and in Europe. In 2005, Afidol spoke of sev­eral tons of oil made from Spanish olives and sold under the Provence” or sim­i­lar labels by two sell­ers based in Arles.

In 2012, it was esti­mated that one bot­tle out of four sold in the famous mar­kets of Provence was actu­ally car­ry­ing a fraud­u­lent label.

Many frauds in the 2014 – 2015 har­vest sea­son are thought to have occurred, mainly due to the drop in oil pro­duc­tion in Provence caused by the olive fly.

In 2012, an Italian study pub­lished by La Repubblica esti­mated that 4 bot­tles out of 5 sold as Italian” extra vir­gin olive oil were actu­ally cut with for­eign oil.

In early 2015, the European Union rein­forced its con­trols and penal­ties for olive oil fraud, but there is still a lot to be done. In France, it is the DGCCRF (Directorate General for Competition, Consumer Affairs and Fraud Control) which tracks such prac­tices. The lat­est results pub­lished in January, showed that 348 places were checked, at dif­fer­ent stages of the pro­duc­tion process.

There were many label prob­lems in the find­ings. In 8 per­cent of the inspected oils, the ori­gins were not spec­i­fied. Some labels also men­tioned that the oil was of French ori­gin, even though it was not the case. And the DGCCRF have seen cases of bot­tles with­out labels or with an incom­plete label or only in a for­eign lan­guage.

Protected des­ig­na­tions of ori­gin (PDO) or con­trolled des­ig­na­tions of ori­gin (AOC) are some­times used indis­crim­i­nately, refer­ring to a non-AOC, for exam­ple such as AOC Provence.”

The total of 46 per­cent non-com­pli­ant sam­ples still showed some progress as it rep­re­sented a drop from 57.3 per­cent in 2014. The edu­ca­tional effort under­taken by small com­pa­nies in this sec­tor seems to be work­ing,” said the DGCCRF.

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