Nicholas Blechman of the New York Times calls it “Extra Virgin Suicide, The Adulteration of Italian Olive Oil.” While many olive oil producers are passionate and truthful about how they produce oil from olives, there are those that will do anything to improve the bottom line. It’s nothing new in the world of business, whether it be food or non-food manufacturing. When it comes to food, it is of great concern. You know the saying, “you are what you eat?” I wrote a column with that title when I was a columnist for the Nassau Herald. Don’t mess with our food supply when it comes to the health of our bodies!
Let me explain how the New York Times slideshow created a stir in the olive oil industry. The following information is adapted from the New York Times, Jan. 2014. Note that corrections were made to bring relief to those who thought the article’s generalizations reinforced stereotypes and indicted legions of honest Italian olive oil producers.
1) Most of olives are grown in Spain, Tunisia and Morocco (only a small amount of olives are actually grown in Italy).
2) After olives are harvested, they are driven to a mill where they are cleaned, crushed and pressed.
3) The oil is then pumped into a tanker tuck and shipped to Italy. (Italy is the largest importer of olive oil.)
4) Meanwhile, shipments of soybean oil and other cheaper oils are labeled olive oil and smuggled into the same port.
5) In Italy, at a refinery, the olive oil is mixed with the cheaper oils, beta-carotene –to disguise flavor– and chlorophyll–for color. (My note: this is not the case for all olive oil processing. I was told the article was changed to read: “At some refineries the olive oil is cut with cheaper oil.”)
6) Bottles are then labeled “extra-virgin” and branded with the globally respected “Made in Italy.” Oddly this is legal, even though the oil is not from Italy. (My note: I was told that the article was changed to read: “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.)”
7) The oil is then shipped to the U.S. and other countries, where approximately 69% of the olive oil is doctored. (My note: I was told it was changed to read: “69 percent of imported olive oil labeled ‘extra virgin’ did not meet, in a taste test, the standard for that label.”
8) To combat this fraud, a special branch of the Italian military police is trained to detect the bad oil. Lab tests are easy to fake, so police rely on smell. They often raid refineries in an attempt to regulate the olive oil industry.
9) The fraudulent producers have ties to powerful politicians so they are rarely prosecuted.
10) This results in lower priced olive oil, which undermines the industry, leading to economic suicide.
According to a UC Davis study, the following brands failed to meet extra-virgin olive oil standards: • Bertolli • Carapelli • Filippo Berio • Mazzola • Mezzetta • Newman’s Own • Pompeian • Rachel Ray • Safeway • Star • Whole Foods
The following brands were found to meet extra-virgin olive oil standards as part of the study: • Corto Olive • California Olive Ranch • Kirkland Organic • Lucero (Ascolano) • McEvoy Ranch Organic
There are some olive oil industry leaders that say the UC Davis study could not be replicated.