Shit just got real in the slippery and cutthroat world of Italian olive oil. Italy, the EU's second-largest producer of olive oil, announced just yesterday that authorities have shut down an unprecedented Puglia-based olive oil scam.
Bari Today is reporting that the multi-million dollar criminal ring was passing off a mashup of imported oils from Syria, Turkey, Morocco, and Tunisia as authentic Italian extra-virgin olive oil. The criminals behind the fraud allegedly made millions of euros selling the fake stuff to suckers like you and me throughout the United States and Japan.
Italy's forestry police unraveled the scheme, which involved 12 companies in Puglia and a certification laboratory. Six people are being investigated for masterminding the fraud, which centered on the faking of the olive oil's origin.
The Institute of Biosciences and Bioresources in Perugia performed tests on the fraudulent oil and revealed that the stuff came not from Italia but from the Middle East. We're talking thousands of ton of oil, all of which was fraudulently bottled and labeled "made in Italy".
In 2014, Europe had a particularly bad olive harvest, which led to unusually high olive oil prices. In Italy, production fell around 35 percent, and the price of extra virgin olive oil pretty much doubled in a year. The poor harvest was thanks to infestations of olive flies and olive moths in Italy, said to be caused by unusually high spring temperatures with abundant rains, followed by a cool summer. Experts are saying that the olive oil problems of 2014 have made the market particularly susceptible to fraud.
This isn't the only olive oil scam rocking Italy. Just weeks ago, seven Italian olive oil producers—including biggies like Bertolli, Sasso and Carapelli—were being investigated for falsely passing off inferior olive oil products as "extra-virgin."
Protected denominations of origin, or DOPs, have existed in the European Union- since 1992 and have been applied to extra-virgin olive oil in Italy since 1996. But that designation only applies to the very top of the olive oil production range. Many other oils not protected under said law are still designated extra-virgin olive oil, leading to a pretty damn confusing situation. The market is rife with fraud, with some estimating that as much as 69 percent of all store-bought EVOOs sold in the US are fake.
So that Italian extra-virgin olive oil you paid so much for? The one that evokes images of the pastoral hill towns of Tuscany and the sunny shores of Capri? Not so much. It may be from outside Aleppo or Casablanca instead.