Around 54,000 liters of Spanish olive oil have been seized by Italian police in the southern city of Salerno, the press agency AdnKronos reported. Police made the decision to impound the oil on Friday after learning that it was being falsely passed off as Italian.
The discovery was made during a check of a large truck that was making its way to southern Italy from the Spanish town of Valencia. During the check a document was found declaring that the olive oil had been produced in Italy’s Campania region, in which Salerno is one of the largest towns. Further investigation however, uncovered a second document that read “Extra Virgin Olive Oil – 100% Spanish”.
Although the names of the parties involved are yet to be revealed, the paperwork is said to have listed a company from the southern Puglia region as the sender of the oil which was then due to be delivered to a second company in the central Umbria region.
Olive oil adulteration is taken seriously by Italian authorities. As one the world’s leading olive oil producers, it is also one of the hardest hit by olive oil fraud. In recent years illegal activities have been found to range from producers importing oil from countries such as Greece, Tunisia, and Spain and then re-labelling it as Italian oil, to labelling inferior oils as being ‘Extra Virgin’. There have also been cases where producers claim EU subsidies for growing olives on Italian soil when they have actually been produced elsewhere and imported.
In 2008, Italy went to great lengths to protect the value of its oil with over 400 Italian police officers taking part in what was called ‘Operation Golden Oil’, a move designed to crack down on illegal activity within the Italian industry. ‘Golden Oil’ led to the arrest of 23 people and the confiscation of 85 farms in connection with the country’s fraudulent olive oil trade with further arrests taking place in the following months.
Italy has specifically trained police officers to help fight against producers who attempt to benefit from fraudulent association with Italian olive oil. The officers, all from the specialist food piracy branch of Italy’s paramilitary Carabinieri and trained intensively by the national olive oil association, are able not only to distinguish between high quality extra virgin oil and diluted poorer quality oil, but are also able to detect the subtle differences in oils produced in different regions of Italy and abroad.
More recently, a consortium has begun certifying many extra virgin olive oils as “I.O.O%” (the letters stand for Italian Olive Oil) which seeks to establish the procedures for production, storage, marketing of a high quality extra virgin Italian olive oil.