While an international team of judges were analyzing around 1,200 samples for the World Olive Oil Competition last month, there were experts in Italy conducting a taste test of their own.
The Finance Police investigated 183 olive oil importers and distributors to see if products they marketed as extra virgin olive oil were indeed just that.
It turned out that 27 percent of the samples they collected weren't extra virgin after all. More than two million liters of mislabeled products were prevented from reaching the market to be bought by unknowing consumers.
For its part, the Italian farmers' group Coldiretti offered a reminder that more than 540,000 tons of olive oil were imported into Italy last year. Since the country consumes around the same amount as it produces domestically, that leaves around a half million tons that are bottled and bounced to foreign markets.
The group warned citizens to read labels, but acknowledged the challenge in doing so: "On extra virgin olive oil bottles coming from abroad, in most cases, it is almost impossible to read the mandatory declarations," Coldiretti noted, "because they are written in very small characters, placed on the back of the bottle and in a position on the labels which is hard to spot."
But blaming it on imports is a smokescreen. It's true that the generations-old practice of smacking an Italian (or Californian) flag on oils from other regions is deceptive and wrong, but Coldiretti knows the fault lies with bad actors, not bad origins. We know there are great oils crafted in Spain, Turkey, Tunisia, Morocco and every other producing country.