Why Olive Oil Tops List of Agricultural Fraud

Plus tips on choosing the right one

Extra virgin olive oil has become fashionable in health circles because it’s the predominant fat used in the Mediterranean diet, a diet shown to reduce risk of death for all causes. Italian extra virgin olive oil is considered the best, and it is the most highly sought. The only thing bothersome here is the fact that when you buy a bottle of Italian extra virgin olive oil, you may not get what you think you are getting, because olive oil tops the list for agricultural fraud.

An intergovernmental organization known as the International Olive Council (IOC) based in Madrid, Spain is the standard bearer for olive oil, tracking production, defining quality standards, and monitoring authenticity. The U.S. does not belong to this organization, and the USDA does not recognize its classifications, one of which is extra virgin olive oil. As a result, it does not enforce any Kirkland Signature Org... Best Price: null Buy New $23.00 ($0.34 / Fl Oz) (as of 02:45 EST - Details) criteria for that label – although it did adopt new olive oil standards in 2011 that were supposed to harmonize with those of the IOC.

According to U.S. Customs, if a non-origin nation such as Italy, is shown on the olive oil label, the actual place of origin must be displayed on the same side of the label and in same-sized letter, to keep from fooling consumers. But most brands sold in the U.S. disregard this and state their products are imported from Italy boldly on the front of the label, with the true origin printed in tiny lettering on the back, if it’s shown at all.

With Italian extra virgin olive oil in such high demand and fetching such high prices, adulterated oil has been documented as the primary source of agricultural fraud in the EU, even though they have the IOC, suggesting that this is true for the U.S. as well.

Though less than 10% of olive oil production worldwide actually fits the criteria to be labeled as extra virgin, it has been estimated that up to 50% is labeled as such. Some of what is labeled as extra ZOE Organic Extra Virg... Best Price: null Buy New $24.99 ($0.49 / Fl Oz) (as of 07:00 EST - Details) virgin is diluted with lower quality olive oil or other vegetable oils, which may be corn, canola, or soybean oils what have been genetically modified.

In some instances, oils that cannot legally be sold as food are added to olive oil. One fraud ring has been accused of coloring soy and canola oils with industrial chlorophyll, and passing the result off as olive oil.

In the U.S., the FDA does not test for imported olive adulteration. In 2007, Tom Mueller, writing for The New Yorker reported that major Italian distributors adulterate their olive oil routinely, and only about 40% of what is sold as extra virgin meets the criteria for that classification.

As a result of all this fraud, the Italian government mandated stringent new labeling laws in 2007, but the EU gutted them by making them voluntary. As of now, olive oil may be labeled as Italian even if it contains only a fraction of real Italian olive oil.

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