`80 Percent is the New 69 Percent - Olive Oil Times

80 Percent is the New 69 Percent

By Curtis Cord
Nov. 30, 2016 07:40 UTC

In 2010, the University of California at Davis Olive Center con­ducted a lim­ited sur­vey of some olive oils sourced from the shelves of California super­mar­kets and con­cluded that 69 per­cent of the imported oils that were labeled extra vir­gin” were, in fact, a lower grade.

In the five years since the report was pub­lished, that 69 per­cent fig­ure, based on a small sam­pling in a study backed by California pro­duc­ers would cir­cle the globe, cited by count­less media out­lets and twisted into false­hoods, most notably by the New York Times in its infa­mous info­graphic, that had no author and was later recanted.
See Also:NYT Infographic Timeline
As if 69 per­cent has lost its shock value in five short years, and as if to feed the ever-hun­gry needs of sen­sa­tional jour­nal­ism, we’re sud­denly hear­ing a lot about 80 per­cent. Eighty per­cent is the new 69 per­cent when you really want to drill home how much olive oil is fake” in the world.

Just yes­ter­day, the North American Olive Oil Association sued TV’s Dr. Oz’ for declar­ing on his pro­gram that 80 per­cent of extra vir­gin olive oils are fake, among other unsub­stan­ti­ated state­ments made on his show.

How did we get here?

While it’s easy to over­state how much olive oil is sub­stan­dard, it is dif­fi­cult to over­state the dam­age throw­ing around num­bers like this do to an indus­try, includ­ing the thou­sands of pro­duc­ers com­mit­ted to qual­ity.

In case you’re curi­ous where the 80 per­cent came from, the first known sight­ing of the 4 out of 5” shoot from the hip was by Tom Mueller, the inves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ist and Extra Virginity” author who appeared on 60 Minutes’ last January.

That’s when Mueller told CBS News cor­re­spon­dent Bill Whittaker up around 75 to 80 per­cent, eas­ily” of extra vir­gin olive oils sold in the United States are fraud­u­lent.” Mueller later told me that when you fac­tor in food­ser­vice chan­nels, he was con­fi­dent in the fig­ure. But no mat­ter. Eighty per­cent was off and run­ning.

Like the 140-char­ac­ter rants by our pres­i­dent-elect that man­aged to stick with slightly less than half of Americans, the eighty per­cent fraud­u­lent” meme is also caus­ing peo­ple to turn their backs on a good thing in anger, with lit­tle patience for the finer points.

What are those finer points?

  • There’s no data to sup­port 80 per­cent of extra vir­gin olive oils sold in the U.S. are sub­stan­dard, nev­er­mind fake” or fraud­u­lent.”
  • Substandard olive oils (not as sexy as fake,” but a much more accu­rate depic­tion) are likely sim­ply vir­gin” instead of extra vir­gin,” which is still a health­ier choice than other cook­ing oils and prob­a­bly worth the $9 you paid any­way.
  • The best way to know if your olive oil is really extra vir­gin is to learn how it should taste, and taste it for your­self. It’s not that hard.

Mislabeled olive oil is a prob­lem that has been around a long time, and when we choose to buy extra vir­gin olive oil we deserve to get what we pay for. But never have there been as many efforts as there are now to com­bat uneth­i­cal prac­tices in olive oil pro­duc­ing regions around the world and the over­all qual­ity of olive oils avail­able to us all is on a steep upward trend.

But change did­n’t have to come with such col­lat­eral dam­age and we ought to stop throw­ing big num­bers around with lit­tle evi­dence to sup­port them.


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