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Mafia Control of Olive Oil the Topic of '60 Minutes' Report

Before millions of viewers who had just watched the Denver Broncos defeat the San Diego Chargers in a close late-season football game, '60 Minutes' showed how American olive oil consumers are getting ripped off by the Italian mob.
Jan. 3, 2016
Olive Oil Times Staff

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The CBS News mag­a­zine 60 Min­utes’ aired a seg­ment on mafia involve­ment in Ital­ian agri­cul­ture tonight, intro­duc­ing mil­lions of view­ers to the shady under­world of the olive oil trade and cast­ing a fresh pall of sus­pi­cion over the Made in Italy” brand.

Mafia copies of fine olive oil, wine and cheese have fueled an explo­sion of food crime in Italy,” said CBS News cor­re­spon­dent, Bill Whitaker.

It’s very dif­fi­cult to say in any given case with olive oil exactly how many drops in a given bot­tle actu­ally have Mafia blood on them.- Tom Mueller

In addi­tion to a con­ver­sa­tion with Ital­ian inves­ti­ga­tor Ser­gio Tirro, whose team of 60 trained tasters are able to detect coun­ter­feit olive oils at first sip,” the report fea­tured an inter­view with Tom Mueller, the author of the Extra Vir­gin­ity exposé.
See more: The World’s Best Olive Oils, Offi­cial NYIOOC Rank­ing
You in many cases are get­ting lower grade olive oil that has been blended with some good extra vir­gin olive oil…you’re some­times get­ting deodor­ized oil,” Mueller said. They blend it with some oil that has some char­ac­ter to give it a lit­tle color, a lit­tle flavor…and they sell that as extra vir­gin. It’s ille­gal — it hap­pens all the time.”

Before an esti­mated 12 mil­lion view­ers who had just watched the Den­ver Bron­cos defeat the San Diego Charg­ers in a close late-sea­son foot­ball game, Tirro demon­strated how easy it is to coun­ter­feit extra vir­gin olive oil.

Image: 60 Minutes / CBS News

Tak­ing a vial of col­or­less, odor­less sun­flower oil, he added a few drops of chloro­phyll. It becomes the color of olive oil,” Tirro said. It’s as sim­ple as that.

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Sicil­ian olive oil pro­ducer, Nicola Clemenza, is lead­ing a 200-farmer upris­ing against mafia con­trol in the region.

On the day I started the con­sor­tium, they burned my car, they burned down part of my home and I was inside with my wife and my daugh­ter,” Clemenza said.

Mueller said mafia con­trol per­vades the food sup­ply in Italy, and described its impact on olive oil in the bleak­est terms: It’s very dif­fi­cult to say in any given case with olive oil exactly how many drops in a given bot­tle actu­ally have Mafia blood on them.”
See more: Lis­ten to an Inter­view with Tom Mueller on the On Olive Oil’ Pod­cast
When Whitaker asked how much of the olive oil labeled extra vir­gin” that reaches Amer­i­cans is really not extra vir­gin, Mueller responded, 75% to 80%, eas­ily.”

CBS News shipped 3 bot­tles of olive oil found in an unnamed Amer­i­can super­mar­ket to Tirro’s tast­ing panel: Only one was found to be extra vir­gin.

They described one as lam­pante — the low­est qual­ity olive oil. That brand hap­pens to be one of the best-sell­ing in Amer­ica,” Whitaker said.

The top-sell­ing brand in the United States is Bertolli, which is the sub­ject of a high-pro­file fraud inves­ti­ga­tion and mul­ti­ple class action law­suits.



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