Authorities in Italy have seized 85,000 metric tons of counterfeit olives as well as 7,000 tons of foreign olive oil labeled as “Made in Italy.”
Nineteen counterfeiters in Italy face charges over their involvement the counterfeiting process, during which old olives from previous years’ harvests were coated with copper sulfate to revive their color.
Copper sulfate is used in artwork as a coloring agent and was once used by physicians to induce vomiting — though the practice ended when it was discovered that oral exposure to the compound is toxic to humans.
Authorities even noted that the choice of copper sulfate was rather clever, given that it is not classified as a food colorant, and could therefore easily evade the attention of food safety regulators. Simple skin exposure to copper sulfate may cause itching, while ingestion can lead to nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, and headaches. In some cases, copper sulfate poisoning can lead to injury of the brain, liver, or kidneys, or death.
Police in Italy have also confirmed that another six people are now under investigation for selling foreign olive oil that was mislabeled to indicate that it was extra virgin olive oil directly from Italy. DNA testing, according to the Guardian, showed that the oil was actually from Syria and Turkey.
In Italy, the practice of mislabeling olive oil as extra virgin is estimated to be as high as 80 percent, though this figure has been contested by some experts.