Just how “Italian” are Italian Olive Oils?

1 Dec

Olive Oils labeled “Italian” are in fact 66% Spanish, says a report recently released by the Turin newspaper, La Stampa.

Italy accounts for 65% of all olive oil exports from Spain. Their food industry, one of the world’s most powerful and with large multinationals that dominate the crop-processing absorbs most of the Spanish olive oil producers’ harvests. These transactions are conducted via tanker lorries collecting bulk olive oil from depots and cooperatives around the country, including Valencia where I live, which is one of the major producing areas of Spain after Andalucia. Spain’s neighbour then packages the product, maybe even blends it with other oils and then re-exports it through the leading distribution companies in the EU, of course with the stamp “Made in Italy”. Moreover, two-thirds of the oil it sells in its home market is also Spanish, as has recently reported the largest association of producers in the country, Coldiretti, whose leaders warn that in 2011 oil imports exceeded exports by a long way. So the chances are even the Italians, so proud of their Olive Oil probably haven’t even tried an Italian Olive Oil for quite some time!

Valencia is one of the leading regions for exporting Olive Oil and mainly to Italy. From Maestrat to Vall d’Albaida, among other regions, they continue sending tankers to the Italian industry throughout the season. According to data provided by ICEX, in recent years the value of exports fell compared to the 8, 2 million euros achieved in 2007. Drought and other factors have reduced the harvests considerably and this year it will be even less compared to previous campaigns owing to the lack of rain during the summer. Nonetheless, exports remain a key feature of their business strategy.

The EU is starting to take action in the matter. The Italian producers’ organisation Coldiretti claims that “under the guise of the brand “Made in Italy” national olive oils are mixed with imported Spanish olive oil to acquire the image of the country and pass off as products from historical Italian brands” mentions the report by La Stampa . Olive Oil labelled Italian is in fact two-thirds Spanish says the study carried out by the Italy’s largest association of farmers. Most of the 600,000 tons of oil in 2011 that Italy imported came from Spanish olive groves, but also from Greece, Portugal, France and Turkey. With the case of Spanish Olive Oil, some Italian olive oil producers bought olive oil at a price of 50 cents a kilo, which was then resold on to the domestic market at a cost price of between € 2.50 and €3.

“The speculators are manipulating the business and doing a lot of damage,” laments the environmental technician and expert on the oil sector, Ferran Gregori. The rogue Italian industry is committing a crime, the European Union not so long ago enforced a law on the clarity of olive oil origin for labelling standards, and those who are carrying out this fraud generate about 5,000 million euros in profit annually, warns the representatives of Coldiretti .

According to the technician for the Llauradors Union, “Italy absorbs a lot of Spanish olive oil exports because it runs some of the largest food businesses in the world. The same happens with the almonds in Spain, we import them and then sell them on” Gregori pointed out. In his opinion, the fact that some Italian producers are denouncing this, the volume of imports clearly justifies their complaints. “If there is fraud in the labelling the matter should be taken up with the authorities so not to manipulate consumers,” adds the director of the Union.

In view of the situation, Italy is working on a bill to protect it’s oil against increased imports of foreign oil and counterfeiting. This legal proposal, according to Agrodigital, has been presented by the producers’ organisation Coldiretti, Symbola Foundation (Foundation for the quality of Italian products) and Unaprol (association of growers).

The main changes contained in the bill are to require larger letters on the labels, measures to prevent and eliminate deceptive brands and the secrets around the names of the companies that import foreign oil.
Also they will include a classification control to supervise the qualitative characteristics of the oils. This aims to build a system of rules that protect consumers and ensure fair competition between businesses, preserving the authenticity of the product, the certainty of its territorial origin and the transparency of information provided to consumers.

So when many thought that Italian olive oil was the best in the world, little did they know that it is in fact most probably Spanish.



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