The United States Food and Drug Administration has confirmed that it has detained, and subsequently refused, a number of shipments from a major Italian olive oil producer, Certified Origins Italia.
The detection of pesticide traces has stranded 98 shipping containers in the ports of New York and Seattle, according to Italian Member of the European Parliament Sergio Silvestris.
FDA testing disclosed low levels of chlorpyrifos in the Certified Origins shipment after it issued an “import alert” for the company in January. An import alert (also known as the FDA’s “Red List”) provides that shipments may be subject to detention without physical examination if the shipper fails to provide a certificate of analysis showing the product does not contain illegal residues of cited pesticides.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) establishes tolerances for pesticides in foods and feeds, while the FDA enforces those tolerances. There is no established EPA tolerance for chlorpyrifos in olives or olive oil. Therefore, olive oil that contains chlorpyrifos is deemed adulterated under the U.S. Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act.
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Certified Origins is a group of 30,000 Italian olive growers, that produces the olive oil for Costco’s Kirkland’s Best brand, according to the Costco website, and Bellucci Premium.
When a shipment is detained by the FDA, the importer is given the opportunity to present evidence to overcome the appearance of the violation. Evidence can include the submission of a third-party laboratory analysis (such as an analysis indicating that an entry of olive oil does not contain chlorpyrifos). If such evidence is presented to the agency, reviewed, and deemed adequate, the detained entry is released into domestic commerce by FDA. If the importer is unable to provide such evidence, the entry is refused.
No one at the Fresno, California office of Certified Origins was available to comment. The company’s website calls Certified Origins “the largest grower based producers of extra virgin olive oil in Italy,” and states “In a 2010 study conducted at the University of California at Davis, of all tested imported EVOO, only ours passed all extra-virgin standards.” A July, 2010 study by the University of California at Davis Olive Center found that extra virgin olive oils found on California supermarket shelves often failed international and USDA standards.
In a written question to the European Parliament, Silvestris said the levels detected in the detained shipment — ranging from 0.015 to 0.020 ppm — were “minimal,” and below the maximum allowable residue level (MRL) of 0.250 ppm set for all agricultural crops in the European Union. “At present, over 80 percent of the extra virgin olive oil produced in Italy and sold in the U.S. remains blocked in 98 containers at the ports of New York and Seattle…Why has a bilateral agreement with the U.S. in relation to that substance not yet been reached?” Silvestris asked.