Europe suffers olive oil disaster: How you can survive it

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“Aside from the weather and fly, this low harvest is also an expression of the rapidly deteriorating olive oil industry in Italy, where more and more oil is imported, and less and less is made from Italian trees,” he wrote in an email.

“[The] lack of long-term strategic planning on a national and regional level, terrible (often fraudulent) use of EU subsidies not to modernize groves and mills, as the subsidies were designed to do, but to grease palms,” are among the reasons he cites.

Mueller warns that this shortage may well lead to even more of the kinds of olive oil fraud he describes in his book — cheaper oils from other countries being imported and sold as fine Italian, lesser grades being labeled extra-virgin, even the addition of vegetable oils.

Indeed, Olive Oil Times has already reported a 45% increase in imports of oils into Italy.

Given all of this, what’s an olive oil lover to do?

Beramendi says shopping carefully can hedge the odds in your favor. “If anything, this is going to be the year when we realize who are the honest producers and who are cheating,” he says. “Capezzana for example turned off the machine, you won’t find any.”

Pay attention to the label, he says. A wrinkle in Italian oil labeling laws allows producers to label their products by where they are bottled, not necessarily where they are grown. Therefore, a company in Tuscany that imports Algerian oil can sell it as Tuscan oil.

An exception, Beramendi says, is bottles labeled “produced and bottled by,” which have to have been grown by the estate that’s selling them. Even better are bottles that are marked with the harvest date.

Mueller, whose book uncovers all manner of bad business in olive oil, is more pessimistic.

“Given the current lack of transparency in labeling, I’m afraid there are no good answers for how consumers can shop smart,” he wrote.

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