The crackdown on olive oil fraud is gaining pace, with a big name Spanish retailer named this week for labeling its store brand olive oil “extra virgin” when it actually contains a mixture of refined oil and virgin olive oil.

Supermarket chain Alcampo will be penalized after it was exposed by the Coordinator of Organizations of Farmers and Cattlemen (COAG) for giving consumers misleading information by marking its Auchan brand three- and five-liter bottles “extra virgin”.

The Andalusian Administration has already recalled 2,241 five-liter bottles and 88 three-liter bottles from the company’s Alcampo de Linares stores in Jaén, amounting to 11,464 liters of oil.

According to Europa Press, the investigation into the supermarket giant began in February when COAG filed a complaint with Consumer Services at Jaén’s Regional Health Authority, prompting samples to be sent to Agri-Food Laboratories in Córdoba and Atarfe, Granada.

Consumer Services found Alcampo accountable for two offenses – one for developing and distributing goods without complying with the duties of information, and the other for defrauding by weight, measure or quality of goods offered.

The first of these violations, which was initially classed as mild, has become serious “due to the lack of the most fundamental duties of due diligence and for its impact on the market”, the record says.

Each offense could be punishable by a fine of anywhere between 5,001 and 30,000 euros (US$6,725-$40,345).

The concerted effort by the Spanish watchdogs is good news for makers of true extra virgin olive oil and campaigners of enforcing worldwide olive oil standards.

Watching Australia

The global olive oil industry is already watching as Australia gets set to put a new olive standard to public consultation in an attempt to keep mislabeled olive oils off the shelves.

Standards Australia, the Australian Olive Association, retailers, consumer associations, government bodies and growers are currently helping develop the Australian Standard after a couple of recent studies revealed up to half of imported extra virgin oils carried inaccurate labeling and didn’t meet international standards[1].

If the Australian Standard is introduced it could put an end to the free reign foreign companies have had in the Australian market, and could potentially reduce overall imports from old world producers.

It may also see other big olive oil importing countries follow suit, such as the USA, which recently released its Standards for Grades of Olive Oil and Olive Pomace Oil. Currently, the standards follow much the same lines as those of the International Olive Council (IOC).

The IOC, while it defines the standard, does not enact any enforcement of the standard nor does it have the power to force a country to impose the standards. It is up to that country’s government to decide whether or not it wants to act.

Spain’s Department of Consumer Affairs has informed Alcampo of its proposed penalty, taking the company’s cooperation into account, but says it is not yet final as the company still has the right to appeal.

[1] Study by the New South Wales Department of Primary Industry, July 2010; Survey by Australian consumer group Choice, July 2010.

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