Europe

Mueller Connects Unseemly Events in Italian Olive Oil Sector

Jan. 3, 2016
By Olive Oil Times Staff

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A string of events in the Italian olive oil sector making head­lines around the world might seem uncon­nected to the casual reader, but they form an all-too-famil­iar pat­tern to Tom Mueller, the inves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ist and author of “Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil.”
See more: The World’s Best Olive Oils, Official NYIOOC Ranking
Writing on his Truth in Olive Oil blog, Mueller called the multi-staged battle raging in Italy “part of a larger world war over food authen­tic­ity.”

All this prob­a­bly sounds bizarre and irrel­e­vant, espe­cially if you live out­side Italy.- Tom Mueller

In December, anti-mafia inves­ti­ga­tors seized 7,000 tons of olive oil in Puglia labeled “100 Italian” that was found to be from North Africa and the Middle East. Mueller said his sources had con­firmed a mafia con­nec­tion with at least one of the com­pa­nies being inves­ti­gated. That explained, accord­ing to Mueller, why the probe is being led by “an elite corps of pros­e­cu­tors that spe­cial­izes in fight­ing orga­nized crime syn­di­cates.”

The inves­ti­ga­tion also led the mafia to seek a hedge against the pos­si­ble fall­out, accord­ing to Mueller. “As if to under­score the polit­i­cal clout of some of the accused, just before Christmas, mem­bers of the Italian Ministry of Agriculture, includ­ing the head of their inves­tiga­tive corps, tried to push through new leg­is­la­tion that would have de-crim­i­nal­ized the sale of fake ‘Made in Italy’ olive oil, pun­ish­ing it instead with a modest fine.”
See more: Listen to an Interview with Tom Mueller on the ‘On Olive Oil’ Podcast
Two days before a widely antic­i­pated airing of a ’60 Minutes’ seg­ment on mafia involve­ment in the Italian agri­cul­ture sector, Mueller wrote that even the calami­tous out­break of the bac­terium Xylella fas­tidiosa could be traced to a place where ancient trees pro­tected by law from being felled stood in the way of the con­struc­tion of a new resort devel­op­ment, lend­ing his sup­port behind grow­ing sus­pi­cion that orga­nized crime was at the root of that crisis, too.

“Suddenly there would be more elbow (or hotel) room in sev­eral lovely sea­side locales in Puglia,” Mueller wrote.

“A mys­te­ri­ous plant dis­ease, a sus­pect legal maneu­ver, anti-mafia inves­ti­ga­tors stum­bling into 7,000 tons of fishy olive oil, famous oil brands accused once more of pass­ing off low-grade prod­uct as the Real McCoy … all this prob­a­bly sounds bizarre and irrel­e­vant, espe­cially if you live out­side Italy.”

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But Italy is far from the only place where cor­rup­tion and prof­i­teer­ing lie at the heart of the food chain, even when an esti­mated 12 mil­lion Americans might get a sense the prob­lem is uniquely Italian tonight watch­ing ’60 Minutes.’

“The unseemly spec­ta­cle of fraud that’s play­ing out right now in Puglia, Turin and Rome also hap­pens in count­less other foods in other coun­tries,” Mueller said, “where no pros­e­cu­tor, police inves­ti­ga­tor or politi­cian raises a hand, word of the shenani­gans never gets out, and busi­ness con­tin­ues as usual.”