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Italian Olive Oil Producers Slapped With Fines for 'Extra Virgin' Fraud

Falsely labeling oils 'extra virgin' will cost them hundreds of thousands of dollars

Michael W. May/Flickr

Italian authorities have come down hard on olive oil fraud, fining a handful of big name brands for incorrect labeling. Antitrust regulators said the "extra virgin" labeling on a number of brands of oil was misleading after tests revealed the oils could only legally be classified as "virgin" olive oils, reports The Local.

Among the brands fined hundreds of thousands of Euros were Deoleo, which owns the Bertolli, Sasso and Carapelli olive oil brands, as well as grocery chain Lidl and Pietro Coricelli, according to the Olive Oil Times. Lidl was fined €550,000 (about $608,000) for incorrect labeling of its Primadonna brand, and Deoleo was fined €300,000 (about $330,000) for discrepancies on some of its oils.

Italian lawmakers have recently started cracking down on olive oil fraud, which is a lucrative industry for the Mafia that brings in an estimated $16 billion annually. The most common type of fraud is passing off cheaper, lower-quality olive oils as pricier extra-virgin, though in some particularly egregious cases the oil may not be from olives at all.

It's not just Italy that is affected, either: A recent 60 Minutes report estimated that up to 80 percent of the extra-virgin olive oil available in U.S. supermarkets is thought to be diluted with cheaper oils, and U.S. lawmakers have urged the FDA to create a sampling and testing system for imported oils.