`Lawsuit Targets Olive Oil Brands Denounced in Davis Study - Olive Oil Times

Lawsuit Targets Olive Oil Brands Denounced in Davis Study

Aug. 4, 2010
Alex Beekman

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By Alex Beekman

Several California chefs and restau­ra­teurs are suing cer­tain retail­ers and dis­trib­u­tors of 10 major olive oil brands after the UC Davis Olive Center released a study last month that con­cluded most extra vir­gin olive oils sam­pled did not meet cri­te­ria for extra vir­gin clas­si­fi­ca­tion. The plain­tiffs include a con­tes­tant from the Bravo net­work’s Top Chef” TV show, David Martin, and sev­eral promi­nent Southern California restau­rant own­ers.

The law­suit, which seeks class action sta­tus, names 10 major olive oil brands, includ­ing Bertolli, Filippo Berio, Carapelli, Star, Colavita, Mezzetta, Pompeian, Rachael Ray, Mazolla and Safeway Select.

Daniel J. Callahan

It also names 10 major super­mar­ket chains and big box stores that allegedly mar­keted sub­stan­dard oil under the extra-vir­gin ban­ner, based on covert test­ing done by the plain­tiff’s law firm, Callahan & Blaine in Santa Ana, Calif.

The law­suit alleges that many olive oils are mis­la­beled so the costs can be marked up for con­sumers. The results of the tests were shock­ing,” the law­suit states. Sensory tests showed that these failed sam­ples had defec­tive fla­vors such as ran­cid, fusty and musty.”

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According to Daniel J. Callahan of Callahan & Blaine in Santa Ana, lead coun­sel for the plain­tiffs, The Defendants, olive oil man­u­fac­tur­ers, dis­trib­u­tors and retail­ers who sell their prod­uct in the State of California, have been know­ingly mis­lead­ing and defraud­ing California con­sumers for years. Defendants have been claim­ing the olive oil they sell meets the high stan­dard of the extra vir­gin clas­si­fi­ca­tion, thus enti­tling Defendants to charge a hefty pre­mium for the prod­uct, when in fact the prod­uct does not meet that stan­dard and is of infe­rior qual­ity often adul­ter­ated with cheaper refined oils such as hazel­nut oil or lesser olive oils.”

A state­ment by the law firm con­tin­ued: These mis­rep­re­sen­ta­tions have been proven false in a com­pre­hen­sive study by the UC Davis Olive Center at the Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science at the University of California, Davis in its July 2010 Report. The Report is authored by the lead­ing Ph.D.s, researchers and sci­en­tists in the nation on edi­ble oil research and edu­ca­tion. Cooperating and con­tribut­ing to the fund­ing, research and find­ings in this study were the California Olive Oil Council, the American Oil Chemists’ Society (AOCS) and the Australian Olive Oil Association.”

Plaintiffs are seek­ing an injunc­tion pre­vent­ing the ques­tion­able oil from being dis­trib­uted and may also request hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars in resti­tu­tion for fraud­u­lently obtained prof­its,” Callahan said, esti­mat­ing that, with so many defen­dants, the case will take per­haps two years before it makes it into court.

Allegations of adul­ter­ated olive oil and olive oil fraud are not new in the U.S. where for a long time European olive oil exporters have been tak­ing advan­tage of American naïveté and an absence of qual­ity stan­dards.

The law­suit is the lat­est devel­op­ment in the unfold­ing after­math of the UC
Davis study which was financed, in part, by olive oil pro­duc­ers in California.

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