`Police in Spain and Italy Uncover Olive Oil Fraud Ring - Olive Oil Times

Police in Spain and Italy Uncover Olive Oil Fraud Ring

By Paolo DeAndreis
Dec. 7, 2023 16:26 UTC

A coor­di­nated Europol inves­ti­ga­tion involv­ing Spanish and Italian police resulted in the seizure of 260,000 liters of adul­ter­ated olive oil and the arrest of 11 indi­vid­u­als near Ciudad Real in cen­tral Spain.

According to the inves­ti­ga­tors, the arrested indi­vid­u­als’ goal was to dilute extra vir­gin olive oil with non-vir­gin and lam­pante oil, which would have allowed the ille­gal oper­a­tion to achieve a chem­i­cal pro­file for their prod­uct suf­fi­cient to enter the legal olive oil mar­ket.

Lampante, the low­est grade of olive oil, ined­i­ble unless refined, sells for an aver­age of €6.37 per liter com­pared with the €7.45 per liter of extra vir­gin olive oil in Spain’s bench­mark mar­ket, Jaén.

See Also:Trade Group Announces Olive Oil Quality Testing Initiative

In a state­ment, inves­ti­ga­tors also announced the recov­ery of many con­tain­ers, four vehi­cles, dig­i­tal doc­u­ments, €91,000 in cash and other phys­i­cal evi­dence point­ing to an inter­na­tional coun­ter­feit­ing ring.

The inves­ti­ga­tion also iden­ti­fied three mills in Tuscany and Sicily, Italy, which are believed to be directly involved in the ille­gal oper­a­tion.

Investigators acquired sev­eral doc­u­ments and dig­i­tal files in those com­pa­nies’ offices, uncov­er­ing efforts to col­lect olive oil from dif­fer­ent sources. One of the com­pa­nies was sanc­tioned on the spot for ille­gal olive oil label­ing.

The whole oper­a­tion was trig­gered by a rou­tine inspec­tion of the con­tents of a tanker truck not far from Ciudad Real.

According to the inves­ti­ga­tors, such anti-coun­ter­feit­ing oper­a­tions are increas­ingly com­mon.

In their view, the record and near-record extra vir­gin olive oil prices of the past year, along with the sig­nif­i­cant drop in pro­duc­tion, have tempted unscrupu­lous actors to try and profit from the sit­u­a­tion.

Last September, Spanish offi­cials launched a broad inves­ti­ga­tion against the theft of extra vir­gin olive oil from a mill in Carcabuey, Córdoba, in the heart of Andalusia, the most impor­tant olive oil-pro­duc­ing region in the world.

Similar events occurred in the last few weeks in other rel­e­vant pro­duc­ing regions, such as Puglia, Italy. Law enforce­ment offi­cials noted how orga­nized gangs are try­ing to profit from the abun­dant Apulian pro­duc­tion by steal­ing olives and olive oil in the area.

In 2022, Italian police pre­vented 2.3 mil­lion liters of vir­gin olive oils from being sold as extra vir­gin olive oil, one of the most rel­e­vant anti-coun­ter­feit­ing oper­a­tions in the sec­tor.

While con­sid­ered good qual­ity, vir­gin olive oils have a higher acid­ity than extra vir­gin and are sold at sig­nif­i­cantly lower prices than extra vir­gin olive oil.

While rou­tine inspec­tions and inves­ti­ga­tions con­tinue across the olive sec­tor, the vol­umes of coun­ter­feited olive oil dis­cov­ered by law offi­cials remain very low com­pared to total olive oil trade fig­ures.

A 2015 report from the Food and Drug Administration cited by the New York Times showed how less than five per­cent of 88 olive oils sold in super­mar­kets in the United States were adul­ter­ated.

These find­ings were sig­nif­i­cant, con­sid­er­ing the U.S. imported 360,000 tons of olive oil in the 2022/23 crop year.

The 260,000-liter coun­ter­feit­ing oper­a­tion uncov­ered by the Spanish and Italian police, while sig­nif­i­cant for its crim­i­nal goals and the modal­ity of exe­cu­tion, amounts to a neg­li­gi­ble amount com­pared to total olive oil pro­duc­tion in Spain and Italy.

In the 2022/23 crop year, char­ac­ter­ized by low pro­duc­tion vol­umes, Spain and Italy pro­duced slightly more than one mil­lion tons, about one bil­lion liters, most of which were extra vir­gin olive oils.


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