Police in Spain and Italy have raided an international gang involved in a counterfeit olive oil operation, leading to the arrest of 11 individuals and the confiscation of over 5,000 liters of adulterated olive oil.
The investigation, conducted by the Guardia Civil, Italy’s carabinieri, and Europol, revealed a scheme to pass off cheap impure olive oil as premium ones i.e. Virgin Oil and Extra Virgin Oil.
Spanish production has been hit by drought and heatwaves of more than 40C, while the crisis has been exacerbated by extreme weather in other olive-producing countries such as Greece, Italy, Portugal, Turkey and Morocco.
Spain, which produces half the world’s olive oil, is expected to produce 765,000 tonnes this year – more than the 664,00 produced in last year’s poor harvest but well short of the 1.3m tonnes or so that could be counted on in past years.
Extra virgin olive oil is not the only Spanish culinary staple to fall victim to criminal gangs in recent years. In May 2021, Spanish police and customs officers arrested 17 people and seized half a tonne of saffron after breaking up a gang that allegedly imported the spice from Iran, bulked it out and sold it as the protected and much-prized Spanish variety from La Mancha.
The gang, operating in Spain and Italy, manipulated lower-quality oils, creating fraudulent documents and hindering traceability.
Police say the gang mixed cloudy oils – a sub-product of the olive oil producing process – with better quality olive oil to obtain the correct levels of fats.
Europol highlighted the common practice of counterfeiting olive oil, warning of public health risks and economic repercussions.
The crackdown comes amid rising olive oil prices in Europe due to adverse weather conditions affecting harvests. This incident follows a previous case in May 2021 involving the counterfeiting of Spanish saffron.