Controversy over purity of olive oil bubbling over
Friday 15 April 2011
Some of the most popular brands of imported olive oils have failed to meet international criteria for "extra virgin" in a study conducted by US researchers.
According to scientists at the University of California's Davis Olive Center, 73 percent of the 134 samples from five of the country's top-selling imported "extra virgin" olive oils were found to have defects that would disqualify them under the standards set by the International Olive Council.
The report, released this week, said that the failed olive oils were either oxidized or rancid, of poor quality, or adulterated with cheaper, refined oil.
The top-selling brands tested in the US were Filippo, Berio, Bertolli, Pompeian, Colavita and Star.
Many of these same brands are sold internationally. Bertolli, for example, is sold in the US, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand and the Netherlands. Filippo is sold in the US, Canada, and the UK.
As American consumers spend more than $720 million each year on olive oil, researchers say that the majority are paying a premium price for mislabeled oil.
In a scathing statement, the executive director of the California Olive Oil Council said, "The evidence continues to build that substandard foreign olive oil is being intentionally dumped in the US to take advantage of the growing demand for olive oil among American consumers."
The report was the second and final installment in the California Center's research, a project that has created a stir in the industry and prompted a disapproving response from the International Olive Council last year. The study was criticized for using small sample sizes, unknown storage conditions, chemical testing methods, and sensory analyses of the study.
Their response to the second report was swift, issuing a statement Wednesday from Madrid acknowledging that some of the methodology questions from the first study had been addressed. But the council also expressed concern at the tone of the study, saying it could damage the industry's reputation.
"...both reports have the same evident undercurrent of aggressive, inexplicable criticism of imported olive oil in quality," the statement reads. "This could cause irreparable damage to the reputation of olive oil, which has taken so much time and effort to achieve and maintain and consequently for all of us who work with this product."
The UC Davis Olive Center advises California olive growers and processors through a research and education center. They also work with the California Olive Oil Council to enact olive oil grade standards for the state and promote local products.
"Extra virgin" is the highest grade of olive oil and must be extracted without heat or solvents. International standards also require that "extra virgin" olive oils meet specific criteria for chemical makeup and sensory qualities including flavor and aroma.
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