False Advertising by Filippo Berio

California consumers filed a false advertising claim against Filippo Berio because their label had “Imported from Italy” but much of the oil actually comes from Spain, Greece, and Tunisia. The defense said there was a disclaimer on the back of the bottle that stated not all the oil actually comes from Italy. The judge found the lawyer’s defense unconvincing and awarded the class certification, so consumers who bought Filippo Berio olive oil from May 2010 to June 2015 can make a claim.

This is another example of the games large producers play to sell their product. If they were proud of their product, you’d think they would just state clearly what it actually is.

Germany Also Discovers Fraud in EVOO

The US is not the only country dealing with fraud found in imported olive oil. In a February publication, Germany’s watchdog group, Stiftung Warentest, found that half of the 26 extra virgin olive oils they tested were not actually extra virgin. In 5 of the olive oils coming from Greece and Portugal they found high levels of oil hydrocarbons possibly coming from motor fumes. They recommended that the sales of these olive oils cease immediately. The rest of the defective oils came from Spain and Italy. They also found that 4 out of the 6 organic oils they tested were deficient..

Apparently these brands are not sold in the US, but it points to the greater systemic problem of large olive oil producers unscrupulously cutting costs and exporting the oil. Wherever fraudulent oil is priced below the cost of producing authentic olive oil, honest producers suffer. Fortunately, more and more consumers are becoming aware of these practices and are beginning to recognize the difference between fraudulent products and real extra virgin olive oil.

60 Minutes Exposes the AgroMafia

On January 2nd and 3rd, 60 Minutes ran three segments, The “FBI of food”, Don’t fall victim to olive oil scam, and AgroMafia, exposing Mafia involvement and the fight against it, in the entire Italian food chain, including olive oil fraud of course. Exports are certainly no exception. Estimates run as high as 80% that what is labeled as Italian extra virgin olive oil here in the U.S., simply aren’t. An easy way fake olive oil is made from colorless, flavorless seed oil is shown, using chlorophyll and beta-carotene. Americans are also deceived by another practice – doctoring a defective olive oil, and calling it ‘Extra Virgin’.  Watch the segment here.

Have GMO’s infiltrated the olive oil industry?

Thankfully, the short answer is no. GMO stands for genetically modified organisms. These are plants and animals that have been genetically modified by scientists to produce favorable traits. They have many people concerned because the most common trait that is engineered into these plants is to resist pesticides so that more pesticides can be used to control weeds and pests.

The only known GMO experiment for olive trees was started at the University of Tuscia near Rome. It was an experiment to develop trees that could resist infections. In 2012 the Italian government ordered all the trees destroyed to comply with a 2002 law that banned field experiments involving GMO plants.

Olive trees have escaped the GMO craze because they do not lend themselves to intensive agricultural methods. Also, they have a tremendous biodiversity consisting of hundreds of cultivars so desirable traits can be found with traditional methods of cross breeding and grafting.

The absence of GMO’s and its highly unlikely development in the future is another reason to love olive oil. Almost all other vegetable oils, including corn oil, soy oil, cotton seed oil and many others, contain some GMO’s.

Extra Virginity – A Book Worth Reading

Extra Virginity – The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil

Tom Mueller’s new book was just released on December 5 and is available at Amazon.com. It is an engrossing book with a simple and direct style that is so fun to read it took just a few sittings to finish. It weaves the history of olive oil among wonderful anecdotes of the fascinating people and places he has visited through the years. You will learn countless surprising facts, like the tradition of olive oil fraud is over 5000 years old, documented by cuneiform tablets found near modern day Aleppo in Syria that describe combating olive oil fraud by naming an “olive oil surveillance team at Nuzar.” He tells the 19th-20th century tale of butter vs the newly invented margarine that illustrates that food fraud in the US is old and common place.

He also tells many personal stories of deeply committed small producers struggling to make high quality olive oil. You join Mr. Mueller in his own journey in going from knowing little about olive oil to appreciating its many nuances and in doing so you learn a great deal along the way. And of course, along the way,  you learn the essential healthful benefits of real extra virgin olive oil’s bitterness and pungency that at first are hard to understand but then become your friend and you look for them in every olive oil you taste. In the end you are left with a renewed appreciation of the producers of real extra virgin olive oil and the individuals who can appreciate its deep gifts.

Another UC Davis Study Confirms Poor Quality of National Brands

The link below details a second study made by UC Davis confirming their earlier study that the most popular national brands of olive oil fail sensory testing and the IOOC standards while at the same time passing the three traditional chemical tests for determining high quality olive oil. The earlier study was criticized by some large producers as being biased so for this study they took larger samples and had two labs accredited by the IOOC to do the analysis. The results were essentially the same as the results in the earlier study.

It is interesting that a human taste panel can still detect more defects caused by oxidation than the established chemical tests. This is why new tests are being developed, primarily by Australia and Germany, to be able to better detect oxidation in olive oil. The study also details the findings using these new methods of chemical anaysis. It is worth reading the entire study.


UC Davis Study Finds Imported ‘Extra Virgin’ Olive Oil Often Fails International Standards

Below is a link to a recent UC Davis study that found olive oils labeled extra virgin often fail international standards for extra virgin. Bariani was the only oil of the Californian oils studied that failed the IOC/USDA sensory (organoleptic – the human taste panel) standards for extra virgin. The study found that human tasters can still detect sub-par oil more effectively than chemical analysis. Currently the international standards only recommend three chemical tests. This study also includes 5 other chemical tests that are being developed by Australia and Germany to determine quality.

The study purcahsed 14 imported oils and 5 oils from California from supermarket shelves located in Los Angeles, Sacramento, and San Francisco. This is a very good technique because if you ask producers for samples some unscrupulous producers will send high quality samples that they do not sell to stores. A total of 69% of the imported samples failed the human taste panel. The IOC/USDA standard chemical tests only detected 31% of these. The German/Australia chemical tests detected 86% of these. Both the Rachel Ray and Paul Newman brands had two samples that failed the human taste panel.
Other common brands that failed the IOC/USDA sensory (organoleptic) test were Star, Bertolli, Filippo Berio, and Colavita.

So it is very encouraging to get official scientific results to confirm what we have known all along – oil not certified by a human taste panel is usually sub-standard. The whole report is worth reading.

UC Davis Report

USDA Publishes Olive Oil Standard

Below is an excerpt from an email sent from the California Olive Oil Council to its members. This is excellent news because it will greatly reduce the amount of mislabeled olive oil on supermarket shelves in the US.

On Wednesday, April 28, 2010, standards for olive oil were published in the
USDA Federal Register. The standards will take effect October 24, 2010.

This is an historic achievement for the California olive oil industry as
well as consumers and retailers.

The petition, filed by the California Olive Oil Council in August 2005,
sought to set in place standards for grades of olive oil in the United
States, especially extra virgin. Heretofore, the absence of federal
standards allowed some unscrupulous importers to flood the US market with
mislabeled oils and misleading claims.

The standard will:

* Provide legal reference definitions for any government agency that takes
enforcement action against mislabeling

* Provide buyers in commerce with a common language of clearly defined US
grades of olive oil

* Serve notice to unscrupulous importers that the United States will no
longer be a haven for mislabeled low grades of olive oil or other oils
claiming to be olive oil

* Raise public awareness of the differences between extra virgin and other
grades of olive oil

* Inform the consumer by including taste (organoleptic) as well as chemical
testing requirements for olive oil

* Become the foundation on which an infrastructure of grading and testing
can be built

February is Olive Oil Month

Below is a press release announcing that California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has proclaimed February California Olive Oil Month. This underscores the growing realization of how important olive oil is for our health and how important these local businesses are for supporting their communities statewide. We hope this recognition will help more Americans experience the beauty of this California made artisan product. The vast majority of California olive oil producers are small locally owned businesses that focus on very high quality. Through buying certified extra virgin olive you help support this emerging vibrant industry that focuses on high quality and small production rather than mass produced homogeneity.

February 12, 2010, Berkeley, CA Oil Month this February, Governor Schwarzenegger urges everyone to make
California olive oil a staple in their kitchens and cuisines. He emphasizes
the rich history and important role of olive oil in California agriculture,
noting California produces 99 percent of U.S. olive oil, and has set
standards to align its grades and quality with producers around the world.

As the state¹s olive oil production continues its rapid growth, California
competes with the finest oils from around the world in both taste and cost.
With hundreds of olive oils from around the world from which to choose,
California Olive Oil Council Executive Director Patty Darragh urges shoppers
and chefs to look for the COOC seal, as the guarantee for extra virgin olive
oil produced in California. Darragh adds, ³The COOC Taste Panel, founded in
1998, has certified nearly 200 extra virgin olive oils from our recent 2009
harvest, and these oils are already available on store shelves, farmers
markets, online merchants, and foodservice channels.²

About the California Olive Oil Council and its Seal Certification

Founded in 1992, the California Olive Oil Council (COOC) is a non-profit
trade and marketing association whose purpose is to promote the growing of
olives and the production of fresh, high-quality extra virgin olive oil in
California. The COOC represents 90% of olive oil production in the state
with a membership of 350 growers, producers, and supporting members from the
retail and service industries. The organization supports certified olive oil
standards and provides grower, producer and consumer education. Through its
Seal Certification program, the COOC helps everyone from home chefs to
restaurants find guaranteed extra virgin olive oils for their kitchens. For
more information, visit http://www.cooc.com.

The proclamation in its entirety follows.


February 2010, as ³California Olive Oil Month²

Governor of the State of California

Our Golden State¹s agricultural diversity is unrivaled in the world, and
oil is one of our fastest growing industries. Olive trees were first brought
over by Spanish missionaries, and their acreage in our state is expected to
grow annually by 10,000 acres in the next ten years. Moreover, our state
produces 99% of all olive oil from the United States.

California olive oil is made from a great variety of olives and production
methods and offers a range of flavors to choose from. In 2007, I signed SB
634, which aligns our state¹s olive oil grades to international standards.
This law requires bottles of olive oil to meet certain guidelines and
ensures that there is consistency in quality.

Additionally, extra virgin olive oil has many health benefits. It is high in
monounsaturated fats, a healthy type of fat, which reduces both overall and
bad cholesterol levels. Extra virgin olive oil also contains a great amount
of polyphenols, important antioxidants that promote heart health and

Olive oil is an important part of our economy and heritage, and this month,
I encourage the people of our Golden State to make California olive oil a
staple in their kitchen and cuisine.

California, do hereby proclaim February 2010, as ³California Olive Oil
Month.² IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Great
Seal of the State of California to be affixed this 21st day of January 2010.

Governor of California