It has been reported that two businessmen from Spain have been sentenced to two years imprisonment for selling hundreds of thousands of litres of counterfeit extra virgin olive oil. It emerged that the oil was in fact a mixture of 70-80% sunflower oil and 20-30% olive oil. Unfortunately it seems that this is just one incident in an ever growing industry of olive oil fraud. The epidemic has spread throughout Europe’s most famous olive growing countries. Back in 2008, Italian police made over 60 arrests and closed down over than 90 olive farms and processing plants. They discovered that substandard, non-Italian olive oil was being branded as Italian extra virgin olive oil. In some cases chlorophyll and beta-carotene was found to be added added to sunflower and soybean oil with the same aim. A study was conducted last year by the University of California. Researchers at the University found that as much as 69% of olive oil imported from Europe was not what it claimed to be.
This problem seems to have arisen from pricing issues surrounding extra virgin olive oil. The olive oil industry is worth is billion's euros. The process of producing high quality olive oil is time-consuming and expensive. However, many consumers expect it at a rock bottom price. A litre of supermarket extra virgin olive oil usually costs in the area of five euro per bottle. It's simply not possible to produce extra virgin olive oil for this price. However this is possible if the oil is mixed with other substances and passed off as extra virgin. In most cases of 'extra virgin fraud' it is mixed with a lower grade olive oil or another vegetable oil such as canola. This blend of oil is then chemically coloured and flavoured, and sold as extra-virgin olive oil. Almost any brand is susceptible with major names such as Bertolli being implicated in the fraud. (Bertolli however won a court case against them, arguing that they themselves had been defrauded by their supplier).
The chemical tests that are put in place by law, to determine the quality of extra virgin oil have failed to detect adulterated oil. This especially occurs when the oil has been mixed with products such as deodorised, lower-grade olive oil.The National Food Authorities do not appear too concerned either as the oil has not been pronounced actively harmful. However the EU does now require extra virgin oil to pass assorted taste and aroma tests, assessed by panels of experts which should subdue the flood of fraudulent olive oil.