Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

The Olive Oil Scandal

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A good friend gave me a subscription several years ago to The New Yorker, and at the time I didn’t know how lucky I was. First, I loved the cartoons. A couple magazines later, I got pulled in by some of their excellent travel and political writing. Later, the fiction issues pulled me in and introduced me to authors I had never read before. In no time at all, I was totally addicted.

Now, when The New Yorker arrives, Adventure Man and I fight to see who gets to read it first! Often he wins; he skims it. He knows I will take too long getting through it.

It was the New Yorker magazine who informed me about the great olive oil scandal.

I love olive oil. I only use other oils in baked goods, where the olive oil might give an odd taste, we use olive oil almost exclusively. Or so I thought.

In the August 13 Issue of the New Yorker, Tom Meuller starts like this:

On August 10, 1991, a rusty tanker called the Mazal I docked at the industrial port of Ordu, in Turkey, and pumped twenty-two hundred tons of hazelnut oil into its hold. The ship then embarked on a meandering voyage through the Mediterranean and the North Sea. By September 21st, when the Mazal II reached Barletta, a port in Puglia, in southern Italy, its cargo had become, on the ship’s official documents, Greek olive oil. It slipped through customs, possibly with the connivance of an official, was piped into tanker trucks, and was delivered to the refinery of Riolio, an Italian olive-oil produce based in Barletta. There it was sold—in some instances blended with real olive oil—to Riolio customers

Between August and November of 1991, the Mazal II and another tanker, the Katerina T., delivered nearly ten thousand tons of Turkish hazelnut oil and Argentinean sunflower-seed oil to Riolio, all identified as Greek olive oil.

Riolio’s owner, Domenico Ribatti, grew rich from the bogus oil, assembling substantial real-estate holdings, including a former department store in Bari. He bribed two officials, one with cash, the other with cartons of olive oil, and made trips to Rome, where he stayed at the Grand Hotel, and met with other unscrupulous olive-oil producers from Italy and abroad. As one of Italy’s leading importers of olive oil, Ribatti’s company was a member of ASSITOL, the country’s powerful olive-oil trade association, and Ribatti had enough clout in Rome to ask a favor—preferential treatment of an associate’s nephew, who was seeking admission to a military officers’ school—of a high-ranking official at the Finance Ministry, a fellow-pugliese.

However, by early 1992 Ribatti and his associates were under investigation by the Guardia di Finanza, the Finance Ministry’s military-police force. One officer, wearing a miniature video camera on his tie, posed as a waiter at a lunch hosted by Ribatti at the Grand Hotel. Others, eavesdropping on telephone calls among Riolio executives, heard the rustle of bribe money being counted out. During the next two years, the Guardia di Finanza team, working closely with agents of the European Union’s anti-fraud office, pieced together the details of Ribatti’s crime, identifying Swiss bank accounts and Caribbean shell companies that Ribatti had used to buy the ersatz olive oil.

The investigators discovered that seed and hazelnut oil had reached Riolio’s refinery by tanker truck and by train, as well as by ship, and they found stocks of hazelnut oil waiting in Rotterdam for delivery to Riolio and other olive-oil companies.
The investigators also discovered where Ribatti’s adulterated oil had gone: to some of the largest producers of Italian olive oil, among them Nestlé, Unilever, Bertolli, and Oleifici Fasanesi, who sold it to consumers as olive oil, and collected about twelve million dollars in E.U. subsidies intended to support the olive-oil industry. (These companies claimed that they had been swindled by Ribatti, and prosecutors were unable to prove complicity on their part.)

You can read this entire fascinating article here: Tom Meuller: Slippery BusinessGive yourself plenty of time. It is an article well worth reading.

There is another good reference here: The Great Olive Oil Scandal from PalestinianOliveOil.org
Investigators have gathered evidence indicating that the biggest olive oil brands in Italy — Bertolli, Sasso, and Cirio — have for years been systematically diluting their extra-virgin olive oil with cheap, highly-refined hazelnut oil imported from Turkey. [1]

A 1996 study by the FDA found that 96 percent of the olive oils they tested, while being labeled 100 percent olive oil, had been diluted with other oils. A study in Italy found that only 40 percent of the olive oil brands labeled “extra-virgin” actually met those standards. Italy produces 400,000 tons of olive oil for domestic consumption, but 750,000 tons are sold. The difference is made up with highly refined nut and seed oils. [2]

EVEN THE BIGGEST OF THEM WILL MISLEAD THE PUBLIC…

“In 1998, the New York law firm Rabin and Peckel, LLP, took on the olive oil labeling misnomer and filed a class action suit in the New York Supreme Court against Unilever, the English-Dutch manufacturer of Bertolli olive oil. The firm argued that Bertolli’s labels, which read “Imported from Italy,” did not meet full disclosure laws because, even though the oil had passed through Italian ports, most of it had originated in Tunisia, Turkey, Spain or Greece. “Bertolli olive oil is imported from Italy, but contains no measurable quantity of Italian oil,” according to court documents.”

Curezone lists manufacturers of adulterated olive oil and marketers of the same oil. It is disgusting. We pay high prices for junk-olive oil. From Curezone.com/forums

The Guilty

Below is a list of known adulterated brands and dishonest distributors with links to information about their cases.

Adulterated brands of extra virgin olive oil
with country of origin

Andy’s Pure Olive Oil (Italy)
Bertolli (Italy)
Castel Tiziano (Italy)
Cirio (Italy)
Cornelia (Italy)
Italico (Italy)
Ligaro (Italy)
Olivio (Greece)
Petrou Bros. Olive Oil (California)
Primi (Italy)
Regale (Italy)
Ricetta Antica (Italy)
Rubino (Italy)
San Paolo (Italy)
Sasso (Italy)
Terra Mia (Italy)

Distributors caught selling adulterated olive oil

Altapac Trading
AMT Fine Foods
Bella International Food Brokers
Cher-Mor Foods International
D&G Foods
Deluca Brothers International
Gestion Trorico Inc.
Itaical Trading
Kalamata Foods
Les Ailments MIA Food Distributing
Lonath International
Mario Sardo Sales, Inc.
Petrou Foods, Inc.
Rubino USA Inc.
Siena Foods Ltd.
Vernon Foods

So who do we trust? How do we know that we are getting a quality, unadulterated product? This is fraud in an international scale!

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October 25, 2007 - Posted by | Arts & Handicrafts, Bureaucracy, Cooking, Crime, Cross Cultural, Customer Service, Diet / Weight Loss, Health Issues, Italy, Lies, Shopping, Technical Issue, Turkey | , , , ,

29 Comments »

  1. I say we just eat!

    Comment by chikaP | October 25, 2007 | Reply

  2. Yikes! I love olive oil! I feel abused. Taken advantage of. Mislead. 😦

    Trust the Italians for a good old cheating! I say boycott.

    Comment by This Lady Says | October 25, 2007 | Reply

  3. Buy olive oil that comes from Syria and Palestine instead!

    Comment by kinano | October 25, 2007 | Reply

  4. Off lately only my parents decided to shift from Vegetable oil to Olive oil for cooking(since it is healthy), but…..

    Comment by Joel Robinson | October 25, 2007 | Reply

  5. The Olive Oil in North Africa is being bought up by southern European countries (Spain and Italy), who then pass off the product as “Spanish” or “Italian.” It has almost doubled and tripled prices in the local market, as little oil remains for domestic consumption, and the prices are very high.

    Eileen
    Dedicated Elementary Teacher Overseas (in North Africa)
    elementaryteacher.wordpress.com

    Comment by elementaryteacher | October 26, 2007 | Reply

  6. ChikaP – and I say we pay attention to what we are eating!

    This Lady – I love it, too, and I feel so betrayed. I know it’s a big industry, but I think of Mom and Pop out there grinding those olives with big stones, bottling all that oil on their little farm . . . 😉

    Kinano – I think that is a GREAT idea.

    Joel – It’s that Mediterranean diet thing – olive oil is a good fat.

    Eileen – I used to stand in line at the olive oil man’s stand, with my jar, waiting for my turn. He would fill my jar, and I would pay him a pittance for the best tasting olive oil I have ever had in my life. I bet it’s all bottled now, but I buy from small producers whenever I can.

    Comment by intlxpatr | October 26, 2007 | Reply

  7. […] Sandra Tuell wrote an interesting post today onHere’s a quick excerpt“In 1998, the New York law firm Rabin and Peckel, LLP, took on the olive oil labeling misnomer and filed a class action suit in the New York Supreme Court against Unilever, the English-Dutch manufacturer of Bertolli olive oil. … […]

    Pingback by Mortgage Business » The Olive Oil Scandal | October 26, 2007 | Reply

  8. […] intlxpatr added an interesting post today on The Olive Oil Scandal.Here’s a small reading:It slipped through customs, possibly with the connivance of an official, was piped into tanker trucks, and was delivered to the refinery of Riolio, an Italian olive-oil produce based in Barletta. There it was sold—in some instances … […]

    Pingback by www.foodthatheal.info » The Olive Oil Scandal | October 26, 2007 | Reply

  9. do you get the new yorker in Kuwait? I’ve been here three years and would love to find the New Yorker, Harpers or even Atlantic Monthly on a regular basis. But Virgin nor Muthana seem to carry them. Where do you find the New Yorker?

    Comment by Q8gypsy | October 27, 2007 | Reply

  10. It certainly is disgusting. One might note that, though, that none of the above named diluters of olive oil come from Spain, by far the largest producer and exporter of the product.

    Currently, in fact, the Andalucian regional government (Andalucía, in which I am an olive grower, produces over 30% of the world’s olive oil) is currently funding a project intended to identify through mass spectometry analysis the molecular ‘signature’ of all the different regional denominations of extra virgin olive oil, enabling bottlers to include this information on barcode-like labels on every bottle marketed and against which the contents could be tested. The systematic adoption of this system, when it is completed, would go along way to protect consumers from the present situation, brought on partly through the fraudulent business practices of various Italian and American producers and sellers.

    Also, considering that IOOC olive oil standards have no legal force in the United States, effectively permitting virgin or lampante oil to be sold as EVOO (but not diluted with other oils), the seemingly imminent adoption of international nomenclature by the USDA would be a very positive move. It can’t come soon enough.

    Comment by Charles Butler | October 27, 2007 | Reply

  11. Q8Gypsy – I have a subscription, and I have to admit, they don’t all make it. Somewhere in the pipeline is someone else (or multiple someone else’s) who take it from time to time.

    Have you discovered the Jarir Bookstore? There is a new one now, too, in Kuwait. It is Saudi owned, and a total hoot; many of the covers and ads are inked out by the CENSORS and I just laugh thinking of a room full of grown men whose job it is to go through these magazines and blot out any hint of breasts or bottoms.

    But Jarir carries a lot a magazines hard to find anywhere else. Also there is a bookshop/newsstand at the airport that often has not-too-out-of-date magazines. Recently, I found a Foreign Affairs at the Sultan Center! No kidding!

    Oh! You can also read the New Yorker online, but it is not the same.

    Comment by intlxpatr | October 28, 2007 | Reply

  12. Re the Syrian/Lebanese/Palestinian olive oil – I’ve bought it, tasted it and hated it. Just a personal taste bud opinion. Bertolli olive oil is all I bought during our last trip to the States. 😦 Here in Kuwait I use Lupi, an extra virgin olive oil from Italy but since there’s Arabic on the labels, I’m sure they know it’s for export and perhaps isn’t as authentic as it should be?

    I used to love the organic olive oil from Greece that I used to be able to find in the co-ops and TSC. The one from Crete was especially good.

    Comment by Stinni | October 28, 2007 | Reply

  13. Charles, since you mention Spain do you have any links on the devastating Spanish olive oil scandal that hit the country many years ago (late 80ies?) and left many thousands people dead or seriously ill?

    Comment by Richard | November 3, 2007 | Reply

  14. It is indeed a shame that the majority of the olive oil on the American and world market has been adulterated by unscrupulous sellers looking for enormous profits.
    That is why I started growing olives on the island of Crete, making extra virgin olive oil-EVOO, and importing it to the US. I personally observe all steps in the process from the time the olive flowers bud on the tree until the EVOO goes in the can. I know it is the cleanest, freshest, highest quality, and most healthful EVOO you can buy at any price. I also offer all customers copies of test reports from independent laboratories that show the exact quality. Acidity is 0.17%. Total polyphenols are 165ppm. Peroxide value is 6. Nothing can compare at any price.
    When people buy EVOOs that are labeled as a mix of oil from several countries, they must take this into account: How clean was process to gather the olives? How clean was the factory that processed the oil? How clean were the trucks that transported the oil to the ship? How clean was the ship that transported the oil? You can see where this is going. At any one or more of dozens of steps in the process, contamination can occur. Some of the olive producing countries do not have food the safety standards like the European Union or US Food and Drug Administration.
    My curiosity got the best of me. Recently, I sent samples of 13 EVOOs sold in the US for lab testing to find out just how good or bad they are. I dont have a web site just yet, but will publish the results as a comparison to my oil. So long as I keep complete control of the entire process, I can improve the quality of my oil each year.
    My EVOO is now available in the US. It is the finest quality and most healthful EVOO you can buy at any price. Send me and email if interested. kretareserve@cox.net Thanks. Tony

    Comment by Tony Sansone | November 6, 2007 | Reply

  15. […] Olive Oil This response is to a post I wrote October 25th on The Olive Oil scandal, that even when you buy a brand you have thought is reliable, you may not be getting what you paid […]

    Pingback by Cretan Olive Oil « Here There and Everywhere | November 6, 2007 | Reply

  16. But these happened almost a decade ago. Surely there’s been stricter regulations put into place, particularly in the EU?

    Comment by ruth | November 6, 2007 | Reply

  17. Ruth – What I have printed here is just the beginning of a fascinating 6 page article which appeared in the New Yorker. On page 5, for example, you will read the following:

    “In February, 2006, federal marshals seized about sixty-one thousand litres of what was supposedly extra-virgin olive oil and twenty-six thousand litres of a lower-grade olive oil from a New Jersey warehouse. Some of the oil, which consisted almost entirely of soybean oil, was destined for a company called Krinos Foods, a member of the North American Olive Oil Association. Krinos blamed the fraud on its supplier, DMK Global Marketing, which in turn blamed the Italian bottlers from whom it had bought the oil. The marshals destroyed the oil”

    There is major adulteration of olive oil going on today. Charles Butler and others suggest a form of random DNA testing to insure that what is marketed as olive oil is truly olive oil, and if it says it is from Italy, it is not hazlenut oil from Turkey. Sounds fair to me.

    Comment by intlxpatr | November 6, 2007 | Reply

  18. This article disturbs me greatly! I am violently allergic to nuts, and have had anaphylactic reactions to walnut oil and peanut oils, unadulterated, used in gourmet cooking. I am sure I would react to hazelnut oils diluting olive oil. Now that I know the possibility exists, I wonder whether other people have sued the companies if they react allergically or even die after eating food cooked in this corrupted olive oil.
    Can anyone recommend uncorrupted olive oil producers?

    Comment by mstothart | December 27, 2007 | Reply

  19. Mstothart -I am not violently allergic, but hazlenuts make my inner ear itch! I always know when I have had them without knowing. I wish I knew who made real, unadulterated oils. I am trying to stick with smaller distributors, hoping they are more honest.

    Comment by intlxpatr | December 27, 2007 | Reply

  20. […] a fraud, involving adulterating it with hazelnut oil, etc. Here’s a smattering of coverage: The Olive Oil Scandal Here There and Everywhere Opinion: Olive oil scandal leaves a foul taste __________________ 87 FJ60 […]

    Pingback by The ultimate thread! (possible NSFW) (#27) - Page 354 - IH8MUD.com Forum | March 6, 2008 | Reply

  21. Email : Chongoilplc@hotmail.com

    Chong OIL PLC is an palm oil company which provide fuel and feedstock for industries. Chong oil PLC activities are carried out through five business units: palm oil,Jatropha Oil,Vegetable Oil,Sunflower Oil,biodiesel Oil.which includes the operation of the Chong oil PLC crude oil mainline system and feeder pipelines that transport crude oil and other Jatropha Oil,Vegetable Oil,Sunflower Oil, which consists of the Company’s interests in natural palm oil.

    We are ready to serve you better.

    Our company supply Various type of Oil: Vegetable Oil,Palm Oil,Sunflower Oil,Jatropha Oil,Safflower Oil,Sunflower Oil,biodiesel Oil.

    Email : Chongoilplc@hotmail.com

    Comment by james | June 23, 2008 | Reply

  22. For Sale: Palm Oil,Vegetable Oil,Biodiesel Oil,Jatropha Oi…$200 usd Per MT.

    Email : Chongoilplc@hotmail.com

    Chong OIL PLC is an palm oil company which provide fuel and feedstock for industries. Chong oil PLC activities are carried out through five business units: palm oil,Jatropha Oil,Vegetable Oil,Sunflower Oil,biodiesel Oil.which includes the operation of the Chong oil PLC crude oil mainline system and feeder pipelines that transport crude oil and other Jatropha Oil,Vegetable Oil,Sunflower Oil, which consists of the Company’s interests in natural palm oil.

    We are ready to serve you better.

    Our company supply Various type of Oil: Vegetable Oil,Palm Oil,Sunflower Oil,Jatropha Oil,Safflower Oil,Sunflower Oil,biodiesel Oil.

    Email : Chongoilplc@hotmail.com

    Comment by james | June 23, 2008 | Reply

  23. This is very very bad , these people should be punished seriously . untill the government takes an action there will be many popping up like this to kill lives…….

    Comment by cynthia | August 30, 2009 | Reply

  24. Italy is the land of corruption. I wouldn’t trust any Italian olive oil unless I stood by the mill and bought it as it came out of the press. The Italians are just mired in corruption and cheating at the highest levels.

    Comment by Fillipo | December 11, 2009 | Reply

  25. “In Puglia, which produces about forty per cent of Italy’s olives, growers have been in a near-constant state of crisis for more than a decade. “Thousands of olive-oil producers are victims of this ‘drugged’ market,” Antonio Barile, the president of the Puglia chapter of a major farmers’ union, told me, referring to illegal importations of seed oils and cheap olive oil from outside the E.U., which undercut local farmers. Instead of supporting small growers who make distinctive, premium oils, the Italian government has consistently encouraged quan-tity over quality, to the benefit of large companies that sell bulk oil. It has not implemented a national plan for oil production, has employed a byzantine system for distributing agricultural subsidies, and has often failed to enforce Italian laws and E.U. regulations intended to prevent fraud. The government has been so lax in pursuing some oil crimes that it can seem complicit. In 2000, the European Court of Auditors reported that Italy was responsible for eighty-seven per cent of misappropriated E.U. subsidies to olive-oil bottlers in the preceding fifteen years, and that the government had recovered only a fraction of the money.”

    Comment by Fillipo | December 11, 2009 | Reply

  26. Hello sales,

    I will love to purchase from you but before i can do that i will like to know whether you can ship product’s to ASIA(Korea,) and to know more about your market and to also know your mode of payment because i will be making payment with my credit card,so please i will be expecting to hear from you soon for me to place my order.

    Regards.

    Comment by Albert Rinaggio | January 20, 2010 | Reply

  27. […] – long time readers will know – of interest to me. Ever since I read the article on The Olive Oil Scandal in The New Yorker I have been a religious reader of labels. I have discovered that in most of the […]

    Pingback by No Standards for Virgins or Extra Virgins in USA « Here There and Everywhere | July 8, 2010 | Reply

  28. Super Post! Ich freue mich auf mehr Artikel zu dem Thema.

    Comment by Sepp | July 14, 2011 | Reply

    • Wilkommen, Sepp. Es freue mich Zie sehen hier 🙂

      Comment by intlxpatr | July 14, 2011 | Reply


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