A probe into counterfeit oils has led to 11 arrests and the seizure of more than 260,000 liters of olive oil.

Europol supported the spin-off food fraud investigation as part of Operation Opson. It was started by the Spanish Civil Guard (Guardia Civil) and the Italian Carabinieri.

Investigators found the suspects used lampante oil, a lower-quality variant of olive oil, to dilute their product and sell it as virgin or extra virgin. They are also accused of falsifying documents. Lampante olive oil has elevated acidity levels, an undesirable flavor, and an unpleasant odor, which make it unsuitable for consumption.

Operations in Spain and Italy
In November this year, Spanish and Italian law enforcement officials searched various locations as part of Operation Omegabad. Around Ciudad Real, six suspects were questioned and 12 barrels containing 260,000 liters of adulterated oil were seized. Officers also confiscated four vehicles and €91,000 ($98,500) in cash and digital and physical evidence such as billing documents and e-mails.

Guardia Civil detected anomalies after inspecting a tanker transporting olive oil in Manzanares. As a result of this finding and further inquiries, officers uncovered a network involved in distributing adulterated olive oil.

In the Italian provinces of Sicily and Tuscany, investigators inspected three oil factories suspected of being involved in illegal practices. Several documents and client lists were acquired, oil samples were gathered, and one company was sanctioned for irregular labeling of products.

A variety of factors, including the general inflation of prices, reduced olive oil production, and increasing demand, have created the perfect breeding ground for fraudulent producers, said Europol.

Mixing consumer-grade olive oil with lower-grade alternatives allowed the alleged criminals to offer competitive prices while entering legal supply chains. This practice can cause a public health risk and undermine consumer trust, which leads to further economic repercussions.

Extra virgin olive oil fraud is common and has been identified as a law enforcement priority, especially in production countries.

The EU’s Alert and Cooperation Network report for 2022 revealed fraud cases on fats and oils decreased compared to 2021. Violations concerning marketing standards of olive oil were found through official controls on the market, mostly selling olive oil as extra virgin, so suggesting a higher quality product.

Oil fraud in Brazil
Earlier this month, authorities in Brazil disclosed they had found 9,000 bottles of fraudulent olive oil in Paraná.

The Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock (Mapa) helped seize the olive oil from a supermarket during an inspection in November in the municipalities of Paranaguá and Guaratuba. The product was described as extra virgin olive oil of Spanish origin.

Two types of bottle closure caps were found, and the boxes in which they were packed had information in Portuguese without identification of the Spanish product. Lab analysis using NMR spectroscopy revealed that the product was not olive oil but soybean oil.

Officials said the action removed a fraudulent product made in unknown hygiene conditions without traceability from the market, as it could pose a health risk to consumers.

In late November, Brazilian officials seized over 6,000 bottles of counterfeit olive oil at factories and businesses in São Paulo.

In action, 16,380 liters of imported olive oil were also destroyed because of adulteration and being considered unfit for consumption. Officials said the most common fraud is mixing soybean oil with artificial substances.

“Counterfeit olive oil risks consumers’ health, as it does not meet established quality standards. Adulteration of this product is a recurring practice and is frequently subject to inspections to ensure authenticity and food safety,” said Kleber Basso from the Regional Service for Advanced Inspection and Combating Fraud Operations (SERFIC) at Mapa.

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