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Extra-virgin olive oil is one of Italy's most prized exports, but buyers who aren't cautious may get duped: Olive oil fraud is rampant thanks to the Mafia, bringing in an estimated $16 billion annually (in most cases, by passing off blended olive oil as pure extra-virgin). Aside from being unfair for consumers, it's also damaging the reputation of "made in Italy" products, something the nation has sought to protect with strict regulations.

Now, a debate has emerged in Italy over how olive oil counterfeiters ought to be punished. The New York Times reported earlier this week that Italian olive oil growers were upset over newly proposed legislation that would change how olive oil counterfeiters are punished. Critics of the proposed law said that it would in effect decriminalize — and even incentivize — olive oil fraud by only slapping large-scale counterfeiters with fines, rather than more severe punishments.

The Italian government claimed "that the draft decree [had] been misinterpreted by its critics and that it actually [toughened] existing sanctions," but farmers and trade associations expressed concern over what would happen to the industry if the law passed. Italian lawmakers responded in kind: According to the Times, yesterday they voted to augment the proposed law, by adding a recommendation that the government turn to criminal law proceedings, rather than mere administrative fines, in cases of commercial olive oil fraud.

Based on the original version of the proposed law, cases of large-scale olive oil fraud could have been punished by fines not to exceed $10,300, which wouldn't do much to discourage the highly profitable practice. Lawmakers also voted to include "a provision that would force repeat offenders to stop production for up to six months."

Italy's largest farming lobby claims olive oil fraud quadrupled in 2015, following a bad harvest the previous year. A recent 60 Minutes report estimated that as much as 80 percent of extra-virgin olive oil sold in the U.S. doesn't meet the legal requirements to actually be called extra-virgin.

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