The New York Times no less, has earned the wraith of none other than Fabrizio Nardoni who is our esteemed Minister of Agriculture here in Puglia. I presume there is also a quite capable Minister of Agriculture sitting in Rome as well as a minister in Brussels. It therefore stands to reason that all the provinces also have Ministers of Agriculture. No wonder we are in the mess we are. Still I digress. What has The New York Times done to Puglia. Well it has said some nasty things about Italian olive oil and Fabrizio seems to have taken the article as mainly aimed at Puglia though it is not mentioned .
The story was written by Nicholas Blechman. Now I know nothing about him but I mention him because I was reading a WordPress article on blog etiquette the other day and it said you should name the writer when using his/her material so, err, I have. He in turn has built most of his story on the findings of a blogger Tom Mueller who used to be an investigative reporter looking at the olive oil industry. Nicholas mentions this at the end of his article so obviously read the same WordPress article I did.
Mueller now writes an excellent blog called Truth in Olive Oil, the purpose of which is to praise the good olive oil producers and expose the bad. Hence the New York Times article .
In it Blechman exposes what is going on in the industry in Italy . He and Mueller claim that the majority of Italian Extra virgin olive oil in fact comes from Spain, Morocco and Tunisia. Italy is the world’s largest importer of olive oil, which is a fact I certainly didn’t know and certainly heightened my interest in the rest of the article.
So here goes. Cheap olive oil and soybean oil are relabelled abroad and shipped in large tankers to Naples ( it would be wouldn’t it !) . The oil is then unloaded and taken to bent refineries where it is mixed with other vegetable oils. Then beta carotene is added to disguise the taste, and chlorophyll to get the correct colour. At the end of the process out pops Extra Virgin Olive Oil or that is what it says on the label. It also says Imported From Italy which keeps the stuff on the right side of the E.U, though they do advise it should also state which countries the oil comes from. But that is a suggestion and is not enforceable under E.U. law. So guess what the refiners don’t.
The oil is then shipped to the USA where there is a massive boom in olive oil consumption. It has become one of those great American health fads the way only the Americans can do fads.
In 2010 it was found that 69% of Italian imported olive oil labelled Extra Virgin in the USA was not the real thing at all.
Well just after the article appeared up popped in New York our very own Fabrizio the erstwhile Minister of Agriculture . He was there promoting wine production in Puglia with a tasting road show called Raise a Glass to Puglia. Oh to have been born an Italian male and be a Minister of Agriculture ! So the press attending the slurping instead of praising the wines had the effrontery to our ask our very own Fabrizio ‘what about the Times olive oil story”.
Now I would have expected him to just deny it . The story hadn’t mentioned Puglia and seemed centred on Naples and the refineries close by, several of which the article went on to say had been raided on many occasions by the police but due to political interference no prosecutions had taken place . Not from our own Fabrizio surely ? No couldn’t be.
So what did he say , well this
“We are the folks who guarantee quality and too often get damaged from food fraud. Americans should learn from us how to make healthy and delicious products”
and then this
“All Americans who have been appreciating the wines, olive oils and excellent products from Puglia have been given an instrumental lesson on food quality. They should understand that they are part of a country of counterfeit and unhealthy foods,”
Hmm, well that certainly told them in no uncertain terms but doesn’t really answer the charges made in the New York Times article which you start to worry maybe he hadn’t read . But he wasn’t finished he closed with
“Americans should explain why their legislators have not taken action against those olive oils produced in California that claim to be Italian. Those products passed off as Italian lead American consumers who have read the NYT article to believe that they are the result of a distorted production system (the Italian system), which is ironic since the Italians actually represent excellent and reputable producers with great expertise.”
Trouble is the article actually said the Italian System most certainly didn’t represent excellent producers in fact quite the opposite and Fabby did nothing to counter the claim. Still, the press reported, he came out fighting so maybe it was okay. Be nice to know whether Puglia is in any way involved in this scam. If it is it has shot itself in the foot as the article finished with the fact that because so much phoney stuff was being shipped to the USA the price of olive oil was falling like a stone and the counterfeiters were losing their shirts. Probably couldn’t happen to a nicer crowd of guys.