Mamma Mia - olive oil firms accused of fraud
Seven of Italy's best-known olive oil companies are being investigated for allegedly passing off inferior quality olive oil as extra virgin.
Extra-virgin oil costs, on average, about a third more than ordinary oil, netting the firms millions of pounds in extra profit.
Extra-virgin oil, which is typically green-gold in colour, is made by crushing the olives soon after they are picked and involves no chemicals or industrial refining. Ordinary olive oil has a higher acidity and is produced with the aid of heat or chemicals.
The alleged fraud was first discovered by an Italian consumer magazine in May and then investigated by the authorities. They said of 20 brands tested in the laboratory by specialists from the Italian customs agency, nine were found to be lower quality oil.
The producers caught up in the investigation include Bertolli, Santa Sabina, Primadonna - which is sold through Lidl - and Antica Badia, which is sold through another cheap supermarket chain, Eurospin. The other three leading brands are Carapelli, Coricelli and Sasso.
The alleged fraud is now being investigated by prosecutors in Turin. "The damage caused by this deceit is enormous, not just for consumers but also for the entire country and for the image of products that are made in Italy," said Rosario Trefiletti, the president of Federconsumatori, a consumer association.
"It's a shameful business that requires prompt action by the authorities."
Maurizio Martina, the Italian agriculture minister, said it was important for the investigation to proceed to "protect consumers, as well as the thousands of honest olive oil producers" in Italy.
"For months now we have been increasing quality controls. In 2014, our inspectors carried out 6,000 checks and confiscated oil worth €10m. It's vital to protect a sector as important as olive oil," she said.
Italy is the world's second largest producer of olive oil, after Spain and is worth €5bn a year to Italy.
Codacons, Italy's principal consumer association, said people who had bought the substandard oil should be entitled to compensation from the companies involved. (© Daily Telegraph, London)