The Big Olive: Rabih Moughelbay

The Adelaide edition of Today Tonight, an Australian tabloid television program, aired a report earlier this week on what it said was a four-month investigation into substandard olive oil.

At first it seemed like a rehashing of a segment from last summer that also starred the globetrotting Australian Olive Association President Paul Miller and a healthy dose of sensationalist reporting. But then there was one very surprising difference.

This show started out with the same overstatement of Australia’s stature among olive oil consuming nations as the last time: “Australians are now the largest consumers of extra virgin olive oil outside of Mediterranean countries,” it said, again exhibiting a convenient unfamiliarity with the sometimes helpful qualifier, per capita.

And there was the obligatory analogy to drug trafficking and the standard badmouthing of imported olive oils. But then the show turned its sights on an Australian producer, Big Olive.

Waving test results from the Modern Olives lab, reporter Frank Pangallo (who received “anonymous threats in the course of his work” the lead-in said solemnly) chases Big Olive’s Rabih Moughelbay down a Kensington sidewalk.

Moughelbay doesn’t help matters when, from behind his big, dark sunglasses he shoots back “I’m not even a Christian but I’ll swear on the Bible that this is absolute crap, Frank!” before closing the door in Pangallo’s face.

Then there are interviews with disgruntled former workers, who have all sued the South Australian company, describing a “revolving door” workforce, unsanitary practices and the criminal relabeling of expired food.

The reports from Modern Olives suggested, according to the broadcast, that Big Olive’s oils found on supermarket shelves were old, adulterated and unfit for consumption.

Modern Olives tests also found to be substandard the private label olive oil imported for Australian MasterChef celeb George Calombaris.

When asked if he thought the segment would help address accusations that the campaign he leads is more about helping domestic producers than lifting olive oil quality, Miller told Olive Oil Times “There is no distinction in our minds between any olive oil. It is the case that most of the bad stuff comes from overseas but I have always stated that about 15 to 20 percent of Australian oil also needs to lift its game.”

“Some of that is happening for those certified domestic oils within the Code of Practice and we can see improvement,” Miller added, “but we do have our crooks like this guy.”

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