Back in March, Italian lawmakers stepped up their efforts to combat olive oil fraud, which has ties to the mafia and damages the reputation of one of Italy's biggest exports. According to a report by the Olive Oil Times, American lawmakers are now making similar efforts, with the House Agricultural Committee directing the FDA to create a sampling and testing system for imported oils.
In a report submitted with the Agriculture Appropriations bill last week, the Committee writes that it is "concerned" with olive oil fraud, arguing that olive oil products adulterated with other, cheaper oils could pose "a serious health risk to consumers who are allergic to seed oil." The Committee further directs the FDA "to take a sampling of imported olive oil to determine if it is adulterated or misbranded ... and report to Congress within 270 days on its findings and what actions the FDA will take to ensure consumer safety and proper labeling of imported olive oil."
Imported oils account for more than 95 percent of olive oil consumed in the United States and olive oil fraud brings in an estimated $16 billion annually. According to a recent 60 Minutes report, up to 80 percent of the extra-virgin olive oil available in U.S. supermarkets is thought to be diluted with cheaper olive oils. In some cases, olive oil isn't even olive oil at all, but a cheaper oil that's been colored and scented.
In Italy, olive growers have recommended that the government turn to criminal law proceedings, rather than administrative fines, in cases of commercial olive oil fraud.