The next time you buy that fancy bottle of Italian olive oil, think again. A massive sting operation in Italy has busted seven of the country’s top olive oil producers for exporting and selling tainted product to unknowing consumers.
Big names such as Bertolli, Santa Sabina, Primadonna, which is sold through the discount supermarket chain Lidl, and Antica Badia, which is sold through another cheap supermarket chain, Eurospin, Carapelli, Coricelli and Sasso are under investigation after product tested in a lab by specialists from the Italian customs agency found product from these nine companies to be a lower quality olive oil.
They are accused of passing off the slightly lower quality virgin olive oil as extra-virgin – the highest quality and the most expensive. Furthermore, these companies may be mixing “pure” extra virgin olive oil with Greek olive oil which they are buying in bulk and is cheaper for them given Greece’s current recession.
Extra-virgin oil, which is typically green-gold in color, is made by crushing the olives soon after they are picked in a process that involves no chemicals, heat or industrial refining.
Italy has a history of scandal with its olive oil industry. Oil is frequently supplemented with supplies from countries— especially Greece, but sold as 100 per cent Italian. In 2011 it was found that four out of five bottles of ‘Italian’ olive oil contained low-quality oil from other Mediterranean countries.
Many Greek producers are forced to sell their product bulk to giant Italian conglomerates whose purchase prices and availability of cash make it more lucrative to Greek farmers who prefer to sell in bulk, rather than bottling and selling in Greece’s complex, highly taxed and heavily bureaucratic business environment.