Nonetheless, both Alexandra Kicenik Devarenne and David Neuman expressed doubt over the authenticity of big name olive oil brands. Last year, three major brands imported into the U.S., Filippo Berio, Carapelli, and Bertolli, faced a class-action lawsuit alleging that their oils were neither extra-virgin nor entirely made in Italy as labels suggested (the suit has not been resolved). In November, prosecutors in Turin launched a major investigation into the labeling practices of seven producers, including Carapelli and Bertolli.
The producers categorically deny the allegations. Speaking on behalf of Bertolli, public relations representative Ron Bottrell told The Daily Meal that “Our olive oil meets and exceeds the rigorous and exacting standards of the International Olive Council (IOC) and European Union (EU), the only legally binding testing methodologies for the designation of extra virgin olive oil. Importantly, all of our olive oil must pass our own strict standards and is both chemically and sensory taste-tested before bottling. Taste testing by itself is insufficient in many respects and is a subjective analysis method that cannot be repeated or reproduced.”
In addition, the NAOOA maintains that their method of independent testing is enough to assure extra virgin quality. The Daily Meal spoke with Anna Jané, the technical manager at Lluís Jané Busquets Laboratori D'Anàlis, an independent laboratory in Barcelona that has worked with the NAOOA since 2013. “The process of testing olive oils is strictly regulated by the International Olive Council,” Jané said. “There are two major tests in order to determine its quality and purity: physicochemical, and organoleptic tests, or quality tests of odor and taste determined by expert members of the IOC.”
If an olive oil claims to be extra-virgin but isn't, that fact will be discovered at the Busquets laboratory, says Jané, with tests for acidity, peroxide levels, and absorbency in extra ultraviolet light, among other things. How often does the lab come across inauthentic oils? “Just occasionally,” said Jané, which sounds like a far cry from the 70 percent figure presented in the 60 Minutes special.
“The reality is that we do not have a mandatory USDA labeling standard for olive oil in this country,” Alexandra Kicenik Devarenne said. “No one is putting soy bean oil on retail shelves because they won't get away with it. It's more likely the addition of refined or deodorized olive oil to a product sold as extra virgin. If we’re talking the proliferation of mislabeled olive oils, then I would say anyone who says this is not an issue is in serious denial.”