Purveyors of olive oil, who label their oil as pure when it is not, should beware. Lawsuits targeting specific producers for mislabeling are popping up and might represent just the tip of the litigation iceberg.

In February 2013, the North American Olive Oil Association (NAOOA) took its first civil action when it sued Kangadis Foods (doing business as “The Gourmet Factory”) for “unlawful, misleading and deceptive misbranding.” The suit claimed that the company’s Capatriti brand “100% Pure Olive Oil” contained chemically extracted pomace oil. A Federal judge ruled that Kangadis must either recall its “100% Pure Olive Oil” or apply stickers to every tin notifying customers that the product is not pure olive oil. Eryn Balch, executive vice president of the NAOOA indicated that the case is “not over yet.”

In April, a class action complaint was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York against Kangadis. The action alleges, “By mislabeling its products, Gourmet Factory dupes consumers into purchasing something that is not olive oil.” The action further alleges that by labeling and selling the product as olive oil, “it commands a substantial price premium over other pomace products.”

On May 16, legal firm Finkelstein Thompson announced that it is investigating potential claims that Kalamata brand 100% Pure Olive Oil and Botticelli brand Pure 100% Olive Oil “may be deceptively labeled.” The firm is asking anyone who has purchased the named products or other brands (not labeled as extra-virgin, virgin or light) to step forward “to discuss your rights and the possibility of having your oil tested for purity at no cost to you.”

Two years ago, a class action lawsuit in California against major olive oil importers and retailers was withdrawn when attorneys for the plaintiffs were unable to reproduce the results of a UC Davis study that was central to their complaint.

Olive Oil Times contributor and legal expert Virginia Brown Keyder recommends caution: “While this new trend of olive oil litigation bodes well for a flagging legal industry, one hopes that those in the sector do not fall prey to the idea that competition should play out in the courtroom. Many have discovered to their peril how dangerous and expensive that can be.”

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