Following recent fraudulent misdemeanours on the international olive oil front and a reveal from the Carte Blanche Consumer team, consumers are being misled regarding the quality and origin of the assumed olive oil they are served with, by the restaurant and supplier industry.
In America and Australia, a successful class action was brought against importers and traders for selling seed oils and refined oils under the pretext of extra virgin olive oil. According to The Consumerist and reporter Samantha Bonar, from the Los Angeles Times, there are no rules regulating olive oil in the US. Since there are no federal standards defining what extra-virgin means, purveyors can sell consumers any kind of adulterated garbage and call it "extra virgin", and they do.
Current federal law bans companies from not disclosing on labels that their olive oil is a blend of oils, but even with new olive oil regulations taking effect, the new standards are voluntary, not mandatory. Expensive, high-end "extra virgin" olive oils are thus often watered down with cheap canola, safflower or peanut oils. Because of this, "the US has been a dumping ground for cheap olive oil for years", said Vito S Polito, professor of plant sciences at UC Davis.
Olive oil in South Africa
In reaction to the Carte Blanche programme, SA Olive, the voluntary association representing the interests of the SA olive industry, decided to start probing into the importing and selling of defected and inferior oils on our shelves.
“With no effective legislation protecting South African consumers from products with inaccurate and misleading labelling, the consumer is often exposed to cheaper oils that have been subjected to chemical manipulation,” says Andries Rabie, chairman of SA Olive. Rabie went on to explain that the natural antioxidants in Extra Virgin Olive Oil make it so much healthier than olive oil that has been refined. Refined oils are manipulated, deodorized and bleached, thus destroying valuable antioxidants, nutrients, flavour and colour, making them, at times, unfit for human consumption.
Cold Extracted Extra Virgin Olive Oil presents no defects and it offers a free fatty acid (FFA) value of less than 0.8%. Extra Virgin Olive Oil is rich in antioxidants, which protects the human body from damage, and as we grow older the ability for the body to produce its own mix of anti-oxidants slowly decreases, thus offering less protection of cells and tissues as we age. Research has also shown that antioxidants play a beneficial role in reducing the risk of numerous cancers.
In comparison, Virgin Olive Oil is also a natural unrefined olive oil but with a free acidity between 0.8% and 2% and with defects. All other “Olive oils”, are flawed and need to undergo a refining process during which they are deodorized and bleached. The result is a tasteless product called refined olive oil.
SA Olive are urging every consumer to contact them if they have any suspicion about the oils they have purchased recently. Consumers are further encouraged to support locally produced oils and to look out for the South African oils that have won awards (local and international), which ensures the quality of the oil.
- Vesuvio Extra Virgin Olive Oils press release
(Health24, 28 February 2011)