Italian Police Seize €170,000 of Mislabeled Olive Oil

Italian authorities said they prevented 2.3 million liters of virgin and refined olive oils labeled as extra virgin from entering the market.
May. 9, 2022
Paolo DeAndreis

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Italian author­i­ties have com­pleted one of the country’s most exten­sive oper­a­tions against the sale of mis­la­beled olive oil.

Supported by the experts from the Ministry of Agriculture, the tech­ni­cal depart­ment of the Financial Police inves­ti­gated 183 com­pa­nies involved in olive oil imports and com­mer­cial­iza­tion.

Food fraud does not only rep­re­sent crim­i­nal oper­a­tions which affect cit­i­zens’ health and the econ­omy, they also rep­re­sent a huge dam­age to the rep­u­ta­tion of Puglia’s pro­duc­ers.- Gennaro Sicolo, regional direc­tor, CIA Puglia

Police offi­cers seized olive oil sam­ples in many loca­tions to ver­ify that the con­tents matched the labels on bot­tles and con­tain­ers.

More than 27 per­cent of sam­ples failed the test. Officers said 2.3 mil­lion liters of olive oil ready to be intro­duced into the mar­ket vio­lated European and Italian laws gov­ern­ing olive oil qual­ity, bot­tling and com­mer­cial­iza­tion.

See Also:Using Isotopic Footprints to Authenticate Olive Oil, Combat Fraud

According to the min­istry’s Central Inspectorate for Quality Protection and Fraud Prevention of Agri-Food Products (ICQRF), 102 olive oil sam­ples were exam­ined dur­ing oper­a­tion Verum et Oleum (Real and Oily, in Latin).

Among those, 25 showed irreg­u­lar­i­ties due to the lower qual­ity of the olive oil, which was labeled as extra vir­gin olive oil but proved to be vir­gin olive oil,” the offi­cers said.

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According to Commission Regulation EEC No 2568/91, extra vir­gin olive oil must be pro­duced solely through mechan­i­cal processes at tem­per­a­tures not exceed­ing 27 ºC.

Furthermore, extra vir­gin olive oil also must bear spe­cific chem­i­cal and organolep­tic qual­i­ties, with free fatty acid con­tent, expressed as oleic acid, never exceed­ing 0.8 grams per 100 grams.

Virgin olive oils – char­ac­ter­ized by a rea­son­ably good fla­vor and odor and a free fatty acid con­tent of less than 2 grams per 100 grams – are often mixed with refined olive oils to cre­ate lower qual­ity prod­ucts to sell at con­sid­er­ably lower prices than extra vir­gin olive oil.

Olive oil coun­ter­feit­ers often re-label vir­gin and refined olive oil prod­ucts that do not clas­sify as extra vir­gin to sell them at the higher prices nor­mally com­manded by extra vir­gin olive oil.

According to International Olive Council data, extra vir­gin olive oil cur­rently sells for €430 per 100 kilo­grams in Bari, the bench­mark Italian mar­ket, 7.5 per­cent lower than dur­ing the same period last year. However, extra vir­gin olive oil prices remain 2.5‑percent above the aver­age of the past decade.

Coldiretti, a farm­ers’ asso­ci­a­tion, said most of the olive oil seized in the oper­a­tion was imported. In a note, the asso­ci­a­tion cheered the oper­a­tion which is con­sid­ered essen­tial to defend the legit­i­mate mar­ket of the high-qual­ity extra vir­gin olive oils.

In 2021, Italy has seen the arrival from abroad of more than 540 mil­lion kilo­grams of olive oil, almost twice the national pro­duc­tion,” Coldiretti said.

The fake bot­tles, the asso­ci­a­tion added, got into the coun­try through oper­a­tors present through­out the whole nation and through the usual access points for raw mate­ri­als. Fraud does not only deceive cit­i­zens, but it also causes the prices of qual­ity prod­ucts to col­lapse.”

Operation Verum et Oleum also reached Puglia, the south­ern Italian region respon­si­ble for the largest por­tion of the country’s olive oil pro­duc­tion.

The local chap­ter of the Italian Agricultural Confederation (CIA) warned how olive oil fraud can dam­age thou­sands of legit­i­mate high-qual­ity olive oil pro­duc­ers.

The strug­gle [against coun­ter­feit­ing] sees CIA and olive oil pro­duc­ers work side by side with the judi­ciary and the police depart­ment,” said Gennaro Sicolo, CIA Puglia’s regional direc­tor.

Food fraud does not only rep­re­sent crim­i­nal oper­a­tions which affect cit­i­zens’ health and the econ­omy, they also rep­re­sent a huge dam­age to the rep­u­ta­tion of Puglia’s pro­duc­ers,” he added.

At the end of the oper­a­tion, 10 peo­ple were reported for pos­si­ble vio­la­tion of trade laws, 33 were fined for vio­la­tions in account­ing records and for not hav­ing main­tained the trace­abil­ity require­ment for the han­dling of olive oil.

The police seizures of prod­ucts worth more than €170,000 con­tributed to a total of €10 mil­lion in admin­is­tra­tive fines.

In its note, Coldiretti sug­gested that Italian con­sumers always look for the national prod­uct and learn how to read the labels.

On extra vir­gin olive oil bot­tles com­ing from abroad, in most cases, it is almost impos­si­ble to read the manda­tory dec­la­ra­tions such as mix of E.U. olive oils,’ mix of non‑E.U. olive oils or mix of E.U. and non‑E.U. olive oils,’ ” the asso­ci­a­tion wrote.

“[That hap­pens] because they are writ­ten in very small char­ac­ters, placed on the back of the bot­tle and in a posi­tion on the labels which is hard to spot,” they added.

Moreover, con­sumers need to be wary of prices that are too low and pos­si­bly buy directly from the pro­duc­ers, from the mills or the Campagna Amica mar­kets, where extra vir­gin olive oil can be tasted before buy­ing it and its char­ac­ter­is­tics rec­og­nized,” Coldiretti con­cluded.



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