New York Times Revises Olive Oil Fraud Infographic

The New York Times made revisions to an infographic on olive oil fraud that critics said was sensational and inaccurate in parts.
Jan. 29, 2014
Olive Oil Times Staff

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The New York Times made revi­sions to an info­graphic on olive oil fraud that crit­ics said was sen­sa­tional and inac­cu­rate in parts.

The changes were made on the New York Times web­site today, just after 8:00 PM Eastern Standard Time, or about four days after the orig­i­nal piece was posted.
See Also: NY Times Olive Oil Fraud Infographic Timeline
Among the changes, Tom Mueller, author of the book Extra Virginity, was removed as the source of the arti­cle after Mueller insisted he was not respon­si­ble for the misinformation.

The slide that drew the most atten­tion was one which stated 69 per­cent of the olive oil for sale (in the U.S.) is doc­tored.” The Times changed it to 69 per­cent of imported olive oil labeled extra vir­gin’ did not meet, in a taste test, the stan­dard for that label.”

Another slide orig­i­nally read Bottles are labeled Extra Virgin’ and branded with Made in Italy’ (Oddly this is legal even if the oil does not come from Italy).”

It was changed to: Bottles are labeled Extra Virgin’ and labeled Packed in Italy’ or Imported from Italy.’ (Oddly, this is legal, even if the oil does not come from Italy — although the source coun­tries are sup­posed to be listed on the label.)”

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Another slide read, The olive oil is cut with cheaper oil.” It was changed to : At some refiner­ies the olive oil is cut with cheaper oil.”

Earlier, the illus­tra­tor of the arti­cle com­plained in a Twitter update that he was get­ting let­ters on the nuclear mag­netic res­o­nance of olive oil from Italian chemists,” and yet he was only an illus­tra­tor.” With Mueller removed as the arti­cle’s source, it remains unclear who wrote the piece.

An expla­na­tion of the cor­rec­tions had not yet appeared on the Times Corrections page.

The cor­rec­tions could bring some relief to those who thought the arti­cle’s gen­er­al­iza­tions rein­forced stereo­types and indicted legions of hon­est Italian olive oil pro­duc­ers. But when news trav­els at the speed of light, four days is an eter­nity, and the state­ments the Times retracted today had already been broad­cast and shared around the world.

UPDATE (Feb. 25, 2014):

The New York Times has appended the arti­cle with this explanation:

An ear­lier ver­sion of this graphic con­tained sev­eral errors.

Olives that are used in sub­stan­dard oil are typ­i­cally taken to mills days, weeks or even months after being picked — not within hours.”

The graphic con­flated two dubi­ous prac­tices that can be found in parts of the olive oil indus­try. Some pro­duc­ers mix olive oil with soy­bean or other cheap oils, while oth­ers mix veg­etable oils with beta carotene and chloro­phyll to pro­duce fake olive oil; the two prac­tices are not usu­ally combined.

Olive oil bot­tled in Italy and sold in the United States may be labeled packed in Italy” or imported from Italy” — not pro­duced in Italy” — even if the oil does not come from Italy. (However, the source coun­tries are sup­posed to be listed on the label.)

A 2010 study by researchers at the University of California, Davis, found that 69 per­cent of imported olive oil labeled extra vir­gin” did not meet, in an expert taste and smell test, the stan­dard for that label. The study sug­gested that the sub­stan­dard sam­ples had been oxi­dized; had been adul­ter­ated with cheaper refined olive oil; or were of poor qual­ity because they were made from dam­aged or over­ripe olives, or olives that had been improp­erly stored or processed — or some com­bi­na­tion of these flaws. It did not con­clude that 69 per­cent of olive oil for sale in the United States was doctored.

Finally, the graphic incor­rectly cited Tom Mueller, who runs the blog Truth in Olive Oil, as the source of the infor­ma­tion. While Mr. Mueller’s blog and other writ­ings were con­sulted in prepa­ra­tion of the graphic, sev­eral of his find­ings were misinterpreted.”

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