Your Extra Virgin Olive Oil Could Be Fake – Truth!
Summary of eRumor:
Much of the extra virgin olive oil sold in the U.S. is fake because it’s made with genetically modified soybeans and unapproved chemicals.
Many shoppers have been squeezed into buying cheap (or even fake) olive oil over the years, so this eRumor is true.
Claims that some brands of extra virgin olive oil are cut with soybean or vegetable oils have been around for years. And some in the olive oil industry have drawn heat for using labels that make it hard to tell where their products come from, and what quality they are.
A chain email that outlines some of those claims made the rounds in early 2015. It was based on a story that appeared in the New York Times opinion section in January of 2014:
“Much of the oil sold as Italian olive oil does not come from Italy, but from countries like Spain, Morocco and Tunisia … The oil is then pumped into a tanker truck and shipped to Italy, the world’s largest importer of olive oil. Meanwhile, shipments of soybean oil and other cheap oils are labeled olive oil, and smuggled into the same port. At some refineries, the olive oil is cut with cheaper oil. Other refineries are even worse. They mix vegetable oils with beta-carotene, to disguise the flavor, and chlorophyll for coloring, to produce fake olive oil. Bottles are labeled ‘Extra Virgin’ and branded with ‘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.”
You should look for the phrase “produced in Italy” if you want to make sure that’s where your olive oil came from.
Some of the other claims came from a study by the UC-Davis Olive Center (yes, UC-Davis has an Olive Center). Researchers carried out a yearlong study that evaluated olive oil based on standards set by the International Olive Council (IOC). Sadly for lovers of olive oil, 73% of the top five extra virgin olive oil brands sold in the U.S. failed. That means, researchers said, “These samples are oxidized, of poor quality, and/or adulterated with cheaper refined oils.”
Other forms of olive oil fraud have been around even longer. In 2007, author Tom Mueller covered the problem for New Yorker magazine:
“The American market, which is worth about one and a half billion dollars, is the largest outside Europe, and is growing at a rate of ten percent a year. Yet the Food and Drug Administration considers olive-oil fraud a relatively rare problem and does not routinely test oils for adulteration. Instead, the agency relies on major producers and trade groups, like the North American Olive Oil Association — whose members include several companies that also belong to ASSITOL — to alert it to suspicious products. With the industry acting as a watchdog, Martin Stutsman, a specialist in adulterated food at the F.D.A., told me, “you don’t waste your resources on surveys that are likely to make somebody comfortable but that don’t do much toward protecting the public health.”
“In February, 2006, federal marshals seized about sixty-one thousand litres of what was supposedly extra-virgin olive oil and twenty-six thousand litres of a lower-grade olive oil from a New Jersey warehouse. Some of the oil, which consisted almost entirely of soybean oil, was destined for a company called Krinos Foods, a member of the North American Olive Oil Association. Krinos blamed the fraud on its supplier, DMK Global Marketing, which in turn blamed the Italian bottlers from whom it had bought the oil. The marshals destroyed the oil, but no criminal charges were brought against Krinos or any other companies. “My experience over a period of some fifty years suggests that we can always expect adulteration and mislabeling of olive-oil products in the absence of surveillance by official sources,” David Firestone, an F.D.A. chemist who was the agency’s olive-oil specialist from the mid-sixties to 1999, told me.”
Tom Mueller went on to write a book on olive oil fraud called, “Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil.”
“Even though concerns over poor quality, mislabeling and outright fraud surfaced a few years ago, olive oil continues to be plagued with credibility issues, even as it finds its way into more American homes and countries around the globe attempt to set quality-control standards. The state of extra-virgin olive oil — which is extracted from olives via mechanical means, not chemicals or heat — has been particularly controversial. While some industry insiders insist that stories of rampant adulteration are greatly exaggerated, others beg to differ…
“In the hope of improving matters, the USDA invited olive-oil brands to comply voluntarily with its Quality Monitoring Program. But so far only one company — Pompeian, the second largest olive-oil bottler in the U.S. — has chosen to participate. To do so, Pompeian officials say, they have had to greatly increase the size
of their quality-control department, spending “several hundred thousand dollars” for staffing, training, research and record keeping.”
After a long history of fraud and scandal in the olive oil industry, the moral of the story is to be careful when shopping for extra virgin olive oil.