Deodorized olive oil is back in the spotlight this past week. There are a few reasons for this. The most sensational is that Florence prosecutors are looking into the possible falsification of olive oil transport documents by large packagers of olive oil including Grupo SOS. Whether the blame shifts to other brokers and suppliers will be seen. The documentation allegedly turned low quality oil into extra virgin. Prosecutors seized paperwork and oil samples from packaging facilities in Florence, Reggio Emilia, Genova, and Pavia.
Grupo SOS is a Spanish conglomerate, and the world’s largest olive oil company. It now owns the historically Italian brands Bertolli, Carapelli, and Sasso. The troubled company is today reporting a loss of €50 million for 2010.
Rome’s Corpo Forestale, a government agency, announced the Florence investigation of Grupo SOS on February 24th, saying that the investigation began in September 2010. Lab tests are underway and results should be known before the Florence prosecutors take up the issue again on March 15th. The inquiry will include the recently adopted test for alkyl esters. The investigation involves some 450,000 kilos of olive oil with a value of about €4 million.
The European Union in January passed a law which sets a limit for alkyl esters in olive oil. Elevated levels indicate low quality olive oil, which is often deodorized. Some critics of the law say that it allows for too high a level of alkyl esters. The limit is 75 milligrams of alkyl esters per kilogram. The Repubblica, one of Italy’s largest daily papers, ran a story saying that the new law does not serve consumers since acceptable levels are too high. Others have agreed that they are high, but point out that they can be lowered.
Small olive oil producers and consumer groups are warning consumers about low cost olive oils. Supermarkets are selling extra virgin olive oil for as low as € 2 a liter.
Coldiretti, an agriculture interest group with some one and half million members, is connecting the dots between the 450 tons of suspicious oil and low priced olive oil at supermarkets. It is advising consumers that if oil costs less than 5 or 6 euros per liter, there is the probability that it is not extra virgin olive oil, but deodorized oil.
The stories about deodorized oil touched a nerve with the government and evinced a comment from the Minister of Agriculture. Giancarlo Galan, said of Italian olive oil, “I feel able to assure our consumers about trusting our system of traceability, and the new labeling laws, already in place for extra virgin olive oil throughout Europe. If they buy Italian oil they can be tranquil about the level of quality which has no equal in the world.”