Olive Oil Fraud Rampant, Trade Agency Finds

"We've made a substantial investment in producing what we believe to be the best olive oil in the U.S.," says McEvoy general manager Dick Neilsen. "We find it frustrating to have to compete against other makers who represent their products as being extra virgin, when in fact their product is not comparable in taste, aroma or purity." He tells ABC News, "Nothing would please us more than to see agreement on uniform standards to ensure that when the bottle says extra virgin the consumer would know exactly what he or she was paying for."

Lax labeling standards, says the USITC staffer, make it difficult, if not impossible, for the consumer to tell one quality of extra virgin from another.

Stroll down the oil aisle of any well-stocked U.S. market, and you'll discover a belildering array of claims.

Your reporter, when he checked his own market this morning, found all the following extra virgin varieties, according to their labeling: cold pressed, cold extracted, hand-picked, first cold pressed, unfiltered, cold produced, packed in Italy, and "obtained exclusively from olives harvested in Italy." Prices ranged anywhere from 47 cents to 99 cents an ounce for domestic extra virgin, to 26 cents to 35 cents for imported.

OLIVE OIL PROTECTS AGAINST STROKE

The Trade Commission staffer says consumers should be wary of labels saying "packed in Italy," since olive oils from other countries, such as Tunisia, may be blended in. "I tell my friends, look for a single country of origin," he recommends.

When you come right down to it, however, there simply is no way—just by reading the label—to know the quality of what you're getting.

When might U.S. consumers be able to look forward to better labeling and quality standards? "Ask the guys on the hill," the staffer chortles, referring to Congress. The most recent farm bill contained, in draft, language calling for higher standards and better labeling. That language was later removed, reportedly at the behest of foreign producers and U.S. importers.

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