A few months ago, we looked at the hardships facing the European olive oil industry as unpredictable weather led to poor harvests and diminishing supplies over the last year. Not only have olive oil prices risen across the globe as a result, but this production crisis has also given fraudsters a golden opportunity to exploit the lack of supply. For instance, this week authorities in Italy and Spain seized more than 68,000 gallons of olive oil that was deemed “unfit for consumption.” The investigation uncovered a sophisticated bootlegging operation that labeled low quality products as genuine EVOO (extra virgin olive oil), creating potential health risks for consumers as well as committing fraud.
“Unfortunately, the faking of extra virgin olive oil is a common practice, which is why the fight against it is a law enforcement priority — especially in production countries,” said the agency Europol in a statement. “This illegal practice can not only cause a public health risk, but also undermine consumer trust and thus have further economic repercussions.” Since 2013, European law enforcement agencies have worked in tandem through Europol to investigate and enforce larger fines on bootleggers. After all, olive oil is far from the only item targeted by fraudulent manufacturers. In one case, a product labeled as saffron turned out to be an adulterated mix of cheap materials instead of the expensive spice.
Still, olive oil remains one of the most commonly mislabeled products on the continent. In 2023 alone, Italian authorities prevented a total of 607,595 gallons of poor quality oil from reaching the market. Although knockoffs are a constant threat to European producers, they could end up being beneficial for olive oil makers in states like California, Oregon, and Texas. Trade groups like the North American Olive Oil Association point to a 2015 study by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that found a low rate of adulteration in domestic products, less than 5 percent total. “So, go ahead and buy with confidence that you’re getting the real deal,” said the North American Olive Oil Association.
- How can bootlegged products like fraudulently labeled olive oil harm both consumers and the market as a whole?
- Do you think North American olive oil producers will benefit in the long term from the problems facing their European competitors? Why or why not?