Clutch of olive oil products under suspicion in Italy

Clutch of olive oil products under suspicion in Italy

The owners of nine olive oil products on sale in Italy are set to face an investigation from the country's competition watchdog into claims products marketed as extra virgin are being mis-sold.

The Autorità Garante della Concorrenza e del Mercato said tests conducted by customs officials suggested samples of oil fell below standards for the extra virgin variety.

The tests come after Italian consumer magazine Il Test published the results of its own examinations of olive oil products. As a consequence of the results, the prosecutor in Turin decided to open an investigation and ordered an analysis made by the NAS, the anti-adulteration unit of the Italian Civil Guard.

Spain's Deoleo has three products in the anti-trust investigation - Carapelli Il frantoio, Bertolli Gentile and Sasso Classico. Four other brands are under scrutiny - Cirio 100% Italiano, De Cecco Classico, Pietro Coricelli Selezione and Santa Sabina. The investigation also covers two lines, one sold as an own-label at Carrefour and one at Lidl.

In a lengthy statement to just-food, Deoleo said its products under investigation meet standards for extra virgin olive oil.

"The physical and chemical tests conducted at the customs laboratory in Genoa show that our products meet the standard for extra virgin olive oil established in Italian law. The Deoleo products comply with all the physical and chemical parameters - peroxides, free fatty acids, spectrophotometric analysis of K232 and K270, total esters, ethyl esters," the company said.

Deoleo questioned separate tests conducted by Italian magazine Il Test and the NAS, the anti-adulteration unit of the Italian civil guard, indicate the oils are virgin oil.

"These tests are not objective but based exclusively on a tasting of the product and the verifications are considered insufficient in many aspects, since it is a subjective method of analysis, which cannot be repeated or reproduced," Deoleo insisted.

"Virgin olive oil is a quality oil with certain physical/chemical or sensorial parameters below the standards defined for extra virgin oil. Since olive oil is a live product, it is liable to suffer alterations caused by external factors such as exposure to light, high temperatures, etc. In other words, extra virgin oil can turn into virgin oil over a period of time or if it has not been kept away from light, for example."

Deoleo claimed two other sets of tests commissioned after Il Test published its claims "concluded the product was clearly extra virgin, so the accusations published in the magazine were false".

Speaking to Reuters, Renato Calabrese, director-general of the Pietro Coricelli brand, rejected the claims against his company and questioned the science behind the allegations. "The objection is based on a taste test, not chemical or physical analysis," Calabrese said.