Fake Olive Oil — A Slippery Business

It may surprise you to learn that olive oil is the most fraudulent agricultural product in the European Union. It’s such a problem that the EU's anti-fraud office established an olive oil task force. The profits of the fraudulent olive oil have been compared to that of cocaine trafficking, with none of the risks. Olive oil is far more valuable than most other vegetable oils, but it’s costly and time-consuming to produce. It is, however, surprisingly easy to doctor. Fraud is especially common in Italy, the world’s leading importer/exporter of olive oil. In fact, 80% of the Italian olive oil on the market today is fraudulent. Much of the extra virgin Italian olive oil is neither Italian nor virgin. A study last year by the National Consumer League found that six of 11 bottles of extra virgin olive oil from three major retailers — Whole Foods, Safeway and Giant — failed to meet extra virgin requirements. The problem is, there aren't enough resources to control the over 350,000 tons of olive oil entering the country. So, what can the consumer do? David Neuman, an olive oil expert and taster for the food company Gaea North America, says "Buy it, take it home, open it, smell it, swirl it in your mouth as you would a fine wine, and judge for yourself. If it doesn't pass that test, take it back to the store and demand a refund."