Ruminations and recipes from a small kitchen in a big city.


Extra virgin not so immaculate.

It has been one of the world's biggest health fads for years - if a fad can last that long - and now it is one of the world's biggest scams.

The words 'organic' and 'extra virgin' may mean absolutely nothing on your bottle of olive oil. Even the word 'olive' is suspect.

News Ltd's dozy Weekly Times carried this story last week (it is not news worldwide), following the ABC's 7:30 Report's investigation a week earlier:

HEATHER EWART: Are consumers being conned?


DR ROD MAILER, AUSTRALIAN OILS RESEARCH LAB: There are products on supermarket shelves we know of that shouldn't be there.

Well, straight over to the consumer watchdog then:

GRAEME SAMUEL, CHAIRMAN, ACCC: The law is very clear, thou shall not mislead or deceive, we will be honest.

Thanks, Graeme. Sit down.

HEATHER EWART: The local olive oil industry has long suspected foul play by some international olive oil manufacturers. Frustrated by the lack of stringent guidelines and regulations ... the Australian Olive Association organised for a NSW Government oils research laboratory to conduct tests on a variety of imported oils with astonishing results.

PAUL MILLER: Well it surprised me. We have not found one imported olive oil on supermarket shelves yet that meets the standards that we propose to adopt.

Not one??!!??

PAUL MILLER: It's generally just a lot of refined oil that is actually being sold as extra virgin olive oil and at the lower end of the marketplace we're finding olive oils that aren't olive oil.

ROD MAILER: ... at least five of the oils failed the test for extra virgin oil. Three of them contained refined olive oil, or refined oils of some sort, and one of them contained canola oil.

Great. You hand over premium dollars for olive oil you believe to be extra virgin - and maybe even organic - and you get canola, possibly even genetically-modified.

HEATHER EWART: ... The Australian Oils Research Laboratory found that 'Carbonell Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil' from Spain, had been refined and therefore was not truly extra virgin.'

Maybe the bottle was organic. Or the label. It gets worse. Some 'olive' oils contain the vegetable equivalent of re-used sump oil:

ROD MAILER: There's one oil that we've found that's been very bad. It contained both Canola oil, refined oil and what we call pumace oil. Pumace oil is the waste product which is solvent extracted from the olives after the oil's been extracted. So this is pretty bad quality product. And we've reported this to the authorities.

Solvent-dressed salad, anyone? Oh, yes - the authorities:

GRAEME SAMUEL: It is appropriate for us to investigate these issues. But it may well be that circumstances, lack of standards or the like, might make it difficult.

Difficult, Graeme? Or too hard?

ROB MCGAVIN, EXECUTIVE CHAIRMAN, MODERN OLIVES: If an Australian company was not mislabelling product that would take them to the cleaners straight away, and rightly so. But for some reason with imported products, the ACCC: it's too hard, they're in another country, they don't speak the language, they tell a different story, and they do nothing about it.

Let the bureaucrats fight it out. Slowly. But in the meantime, take my advice of July 25 this year:

Speaking of olives, after a long downturn in packaged goods advertising, you might have noticed olive oil importers advertising heavily on radio and elsewhere. Why? Because they have to. In the past, shoppers placed imported olive oil into their trolleys because they had no choice. Now, the Australian olive oil industry is up to full speed and the importers are wooing us with cute advertising. Reject it outright and buy Australian olive oil. You'd be 'Lupi' not to.


Postscript: ABC transcripts are typed out by monkeys on speed using voice recognition software in a warehouse in Ultimo. I have tried to make the quotes readable by fixing some of the errors. Some remain however.


din said...

Thanks for posting about this - confirms my suspicions that some of the olive oils around here (Coburg/Brunswick area) are just a little too cheap.

Anonymous said...

Din, the local Coles is bundling the stuff out at half price for a four-litre tin of Moro.

Marie Rayner said...

What an eye opener. It's probably the same everywhere.