Officials across Spain are struggling to address the growing problem of thefts of olives and olive oil from groves, mills and supermarkets.
The simmering issue returned to the headlines earlier this month after 50,000 liters of extra virgin olive oil, valued at €500,000, were reportedly stolen from a mill in Carcabuey, Córdoba, one of the largest olive oil-producing provinces of Andalusia.
In my 26 years in the industry, I have never seen this increase (in sales of anti-theft devices for olive oil bottles), and it may be that we have not yet reached the maximum peak.
Ignacio Fernández de Mesa, the president of the Córdoba chapter of the Association of Young Farmers and Ranchers (Asaja), called the olive oil theft in Carcabuey “unfortunate” and said it was a “dangerous” situation.
He added that thefts would likely affect more mills and farms this year because the high price of olive oil was tempting criminals.See Also:Concerns Mount Over Olive Oil Shortage in Spain
After a rash of thefts in the previous crop year, Catalina Madueño, the government’s representative in Jaén, said rising olive oil prices and increased organized criminal activity in Andalusia were the main drivers of theft.
According to officials, 260,000 kilograms of olives valued at €161,000 were stolen in Jaén, the world’s largest olive oil-producing province, in the 2022/23 crop year, a 28-percent increase compared to 2021/22.
Earlier, €82,881 worth of olives were stolen in 2021/22, a 40-percent increase compared to the previous harvest. Officials said the relative decrease in thefts between 2021/22 and 2022/23 resulted from the lower harvest rather than improved security.
Olive oil thefts generally occur when criminal organizations break into mills at night to steal olive oil from storage tanks. Meanwhile, olive thefts happen in the groves, with thieves stealing already harvested olives awaiting transport to the mills or even taking the time to harvest the olives from the trees.
Anti-theft units from the Guardia Civil, a branch of the armed forces that acts in a policing capacity, have stepped up efforts to deter thefts by increasing checks on vehicles transporting olives and olive oil.
If the vehicles do not have the appropriate documentation indicating the origin of the olives, the fruit is confiscated and destroyed to discourage theft. When authorities intercept tanks of stolen oil, they attempt to return it to the rightful owner.
Some agricultural and political bodies oppose the destruction of stolen olives and would prefer to see them transformed into olive oil and donated to non-governmental organizations.
Since the start of the year, there have been reports of thefts and arrests from Andalusia to Madrid.
At the beginning of the year, 42,300 kilograms of olives were stolen in two separate episodes in Badajoz, Extremadura, the third-largest olive oil-producing region in the country.
Then, in March, 16 people were arrested for stealing more than 17,500 kilograms of olives from farms in Madrid.
In May, a significant police operation ended with the arrest of nine people suspected of stealing 34,000 kilograms of olives in Antequera, Málaga, with one of them sentenced to time in prison.
Furthermore, thefts have not been limited to mills and groves. Rising prices of all categories of olive oil across Spain have resulted in increased thefts from supermarkets, too.
According to Spain’s Consumer and User Organization, olive oil prices at retail in Spain have increased by up to 30 percent per liter since July. Extra virgin olive oil prices at retail have risen by 15.4 percent over the same period.
Salvador Cañones, the managing partner of STC, a company that manufactures anti-robbery devices, said for every 20 percent increase in consumer goods price, theft attempts rise by a factor of five.
“Previously, the main type of olive oil stolen was from the gourmet category, but in the last month, we have received orders for protectors for one-liter bottles and even three and five-liter jugs,” he told local media.
Cañones said a major supermarket chain in Spain recently purchased 1,200 anti-robbery collars – typically used on liquor bottles – for bottled olive oil.
“In my 26 years in the industry, I have never seen this increase, and it may be that we have not yet reached the maximum peak,” he said.