Italy investigating olive oil fraud allegations

By Joseph James Whitworth contact

- Last updated on GMT

Olive oil quality is the subject of an investigation in Italy
Olive oil quality is the subject of an investigation in Italy

Related tags: Olive oil

Italy’s antitrust agency is investigating seven olive oil producers due to concerns about the quality of products supposed to be the ‘extra virgin’ variety.  

L’Autorità Garante della Concorrenza e del Mercato​ said tests appeared to show the characteristics of samples are below what is expected from extra virgin olive oil.

It said the allegations, if proven, could complement unfair trade practices as it would mislead consumers.

Investigations by the public prosecutor of Turin followed analysis by the consumers’ magazine Il Test​ in May this year about potential labelling fraud of various extra virgin olive oil brands.

The agency named brands Carapelli (“Carapelli Il frantoio”, “Bertolli Gentile” and “Sasso Classico”), as well as “Carrefour Classico”, “Cirio 100% italiano”, “De Cecco Classico”, “Prima donna Lidl”, “Pietro Coricelli Selezione” and “Santa Sabina” as being involved.

Deoleo response

Deoleo, the group that manages Bertolli, Carapelli and Sasso, said all products and processes adhere to stringent quality standards and have earned international accreditations and certifications (ISO 9001, IFS, BRC).

Regarding the investigation by the public prosecutor of Turin, it said: “The physical and chemical analyses done by the Customs laboratory in Genoa shows that our products fall within the norms for extra virgin (EV) olive oils as stipulated by Italian law.

“Deoleo products fulfil all the physical and chemical parameters (peroxides, free fatty acids, K232 and K270 spectrophotometric analyses, total esters, ethyl esters).”

Regarding the tasting by the Italian police, it said it was a sensorial analysis in which a group of experts simply assesses the scent and flavour of the oil.

“The verifications performed by the magazine Il Test and subsequently by the NAS (Anti-Sophistication and Public Health Units) of Turin, which were ordered by the public prosecutor, are exclusively based on a taste test of the product: said verifications, although performed by professional tasters, are considered insufficient in many aspects, given that it is a subjective analysis method, which cannot be repeated or reproduced.”

Deoleo has requested a contrast test to verify the results of the tasting by NAS as Italian law permits.

Production in the EU went down from 2,476.5m tonnes in 2013/14 to 1,532m tonnes in 2014/15 according to a forecast by the International Olive Oil Council.

Italy is the second largest producer of olive oil after Spain but the largest importer.

Pietro Coricelli news release

Another of the brands being investigated, Pietro Coricelli, said the protested batch, before being sold on the market, had been analyzed by the company as well as by independent recognized laboratories which confirmed compliance to the quality standards. 

“The results of the analysis published by the magazine “Il Test” had already been protested by our company and are now the object of a lawsuit filed by the Public Prosecutor’s office of Spoleto,” ​it said.

“As further proof of the fact that the tasting test is scarcely reliable, we note that the initial results of “Il Test” were referring to nine olive oil producers, two of which are no longer mentioned in the statement from the Public Prosecutor…”

The firm rejected claims in the Italian media of it selling “olive oil” as “extra virgin olive oil”, adding this is not made by the Public Prosecutor of Torino, which is only claiming that the oil is “virgin” instead of “extra virgin”.

Pietro Coricelli said it wishes to reassure consumers and all involved parties that products distributed on the market comply with quality standards and regulations.

“As regards to the contestations moved by the Public Prosecutor of Torino, the company, according to the legal procedures, will submit all the appropriate counter-analysis, which will confirm that its behavior was fair and correct.”

  • Stay tuned for part 2 tomorrow (Tuesday) which features Mérieux NutriSciences adulteration detection method and the view from a trained panel taster accredited by the IOC (International Olive Council).  

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