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Connecticut Cracks Down on Phony “Virgin” Olive Oil

December 21, 2008 08:01 AM
by Isabel Cowles
Connecticut has targeted fraudulent olive oil imports, establishing official standards by which extra-virgin and virgin olive oil must be judged.

Connecticut Strikes Oil

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Because of the high price consumers are willing to pay for good quality olive oil, olive oil fraud has become a sophisticated industry.

In 2007, Tom Mueller wrote a piece for The New Yorker about the elaborate process of fraudulent olive oil dilution and exportation. According to Mueller, “In 1997 and 1998, olive oil was the most adulterated agricultural product in the European Union, prompting the E.U.’s anti-fraud office to establish an olive-oil task force.”

Mueller explained that, in addition to mixing olive oil with cheaper oils, olive oil fraud also occurred by importing oil from countries across the E.U. to Italy, where it could be re-exported at a higher cost, thanks to Italy’s reputation for good quality oils.

“Profits were comparable to cocaine trafficking, with none of the risks,” an investigator told Mueller.

Related Topic: Health benefits of olive oil

It’s not just high prices that make pure olive oil so valuable. Recent studies have added to the growing evidence that people who eat olive oil regularly can significantly improve their health.

ScienceDaily reported that high-quality extra-virgin olive oil contains ‘phytochemicals’ that can kill cancer cells. Javier Menendez of the Catalan Institute of Oncology led a study on the health benefits of olive oil. Menendez told ScienceDaily, “Our findings reveal for the first time that all the major complex phenols present in extra-virgin olive oil drastically suppress overexpression of the cancer gene HER2 in human breast cancer cells.”

Mayo Clinic dietitian Katherine Zeratsky elaborates on the health benefits of olive oil, noting that it contains monounsaturated fat, which can lower the risk of heart disease by reducing cholesterol. According to Zeratsky, “All types of olive oil provide monounsaturated fat, but ‘extra-virgin’ or ‘virgin’ olive oils are the least processed forms. As a result, they contain the highest levels of polyphenols, a powerful antioxidant.”

Reference: Olive oil standards, studies and supporters

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