How to defend Italian extra virgin olive oil from scams, adulteration and smear campaigns abroad?
Stazione Leopolda - Area Ring
“Hands off quality extra virgin oil!” This command issued by Paolini opened the debate in the Ring at Taste involving Colonel Amedeo De Franceschi, commander of the Agro-food and Forestry Corps, Piero Gonnelli, president of AIFO – the Italian Association of Oil Pressers, Maurizio Pescari, journalist from Teatronaturale.it, Michele Bungaro, manager for official relations at Unaprol – Italian olive oil producer’s consortium – and chef Gianfranco Vissani.
There is a simple answer to the implicit question of whom this command is aimed at: we Italians. We the industrialists, consumers and politicians are the ones undermining the reputation of extra virgin olive oil, we are the legitimisers of the disparaging campaigns championed by the foreign press. EVO oil, one of the top products Made in Italy, is in fact one of the main victims of fraud and, as a consequence, one of the favourite targets for global gossip. An initial, apparently obvious, remark by Gonnelli immediately leads to the heart of the question: fraud is talked about because it happens. And it happens also because the penal code, which punishes labelling offences, is not the deterrent it should be: fraud is only punished on an administrative level (with an almost insignificant fine totally out of proportion to the entity of the offence), whereas the industries involved should be forced to close. A commission has recently been set up for agro-food crime reform, which, it is to be hoped, will decide that this kind of scam is redefined as organised crime.
General attention is focused on the question of Tunisian oil: following the ISIS attack on the Bardo museum in Tunis and the consequent slump in tourism in this country, the EU has approved imports of Tunisian oil, with no customs duties. This may be expected to bring about a general lowering of prices, with consequent damage to local Italian producers. However, observes Pescari, these alarms are all the fruit of common belief and Italy politics has for fifty years treated the whole question of olive oil with studied superficiality. Since 2001, Italy has had not a single representative at the IOC (International Olive Council) table, which decides on production techniques and standard and the chemical parameters for oil.
Some of the responsibility also lies with the consumer, who, if on the one hand must be protected from the risk of fraud, on the hand, should know the differences between what is written on labels and, if they can afford to do so, must demand and buy quality products.
Only in this way will we be able to reclaim quality extra virgin oil and become guardians of it ourselves.