Italian authorities seize counterfeit olive oil

Olive oilItalian police seized a massive 7,000 tonnes of olive oil that falsely claimed to be genuine Italian extra virgin oil but was in fact a blend from non-EU countries.

The fraud was uncovered by officers from the State Forestry Corps and District Anti-Mafia Directorate (DDA) of Bari and has resulted in six people being placed under investigation, according to a report in La Repubblica newspaper.

The counterfeit olive oil - which originated from countries in North Africa as well as Syria and Turkey but was labelled 'Made in Italy' - represented an illicit market worth "tens of millions of euros", according to the report, which links the activity to organised crime networks dubbed the 'agromafia'.  The fake oil was sold in Europe as well as the US and Japan.

Around a dozen companies and a certification laboratory have been linked to the trade, which was uncovered after investigators intercepted a consignment of olive plants that turned out to be infected with Xylella fastidiosa, a bacterium spread by insects that has wreaked havoc with olive oil production in Italy and Corsica.

The EU has introduced measures to help monitor imports of olive plants in a bid to curb the outbreak, and checks on a shipment of olive wood destined to be used in biofuel production altered investigators to illegal activity. The probe was later expanded to include olive oil imports, with the fraudulent material identified using DNA testing.

Italy's Minister of Agriculture, Maurizio Martina said the operation "demonstrates the effectiveness of our system of checks that we have strengthened all steps of the supply chain."

Image courtesy of Shutterstock / EcoPimStudio

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