Seven Italian firms probed in olive oil scam

Seven Italian olive oil producers, including Bertolli, Sasso and Carapelli, are being investigated over allegations that the firms falsely sold olive oil products a “extra virgin”.

Seven Italian firms probed in olive oil scam
The production of extra virgin olive oil must follow a strict and expensive process. Photo: Hrevoje Polan/AFP

Prosecutors in Turin launched the probe following a tip-off from a specialist journal, La Stampa reported.

They carried out tests on 20 of the most popular brands of extra virgin olive oil – the highest quality you can buy – sold across Italian supermarkets and found that the labels on nine of the bottles falsely claimed to be extra virgin.

The other four producers suspected of commercial fraud are Coricelli, Santa Sabina, Prima Donna and Antica Badia.

The companies have allegedly flouted the strict rules governing the production of extra virgin olive oil, a process which is expensive and time-consuming.

But despite the complicated production procedures, extra virgin olive oil is an easy product to tamper with, making it extremely difficult for consumers to taste the difference.

Chemical tests are supposed to be carried out by producers before the highly-demanded product can be labelled and sold as extra virgin.

Italy’s Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Forestry last year seized €10 million worth of fake olive oil as part of a food fraud crackdown.

“We’re closely following the investigation,” Agriculture Minister Maurizio Martina said.

“For months we have been strengthening controls, particularly in view of last year’s poor harvest. It is important to protect consumers as well as the thousands of honest olive oil producers.”

SEE MORE: Like a virgin: how to spot fake Italian olive oil


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Rising oil prices help Italy’s Eni back to black

Italian oil and gas company Eni said on Friday the recovery in global crude prices along with record production helped it swing back into profit in 2017.

Rising oil prices help Italy's Eni back to black
Eni's headquarters near Milan. Photo: Marco Bertorello/AFP

The company turned a loss of €1.46 billion in 2016 into a net profit of €3.4 billion in 2017, much higher than the average of just under 2.0 billion expected by analysts surveyed by Factset Estimates.

Eni's shares climbed 1.5 percent in morning trade in Milan, which was up 1.2 percent overall.

In the fourth quarter alone the company recorded a net profit of €2.1 billion, six times the level of last year and more than three times the amount expected by analysts.

“We close 2017 with excellent results which underline how the process of intense change started in 2014 has transformed Eni into a company able to grow and create value even in difficult market conditions,” chief executive Claudio Descalzi said in a statement.

The rise in crude prices, from an average of $44 per barrel in 2016 to $54 last year, helped swell sales by 20 percent to €66.92 billion. Production also climbed by 3.2 percent to 1.82 million barrels of oil equivalent per day, a record annual average.

While Eni won't present its new three-year strategic plan until next month, it announced Friday it aims to increase output by another three percent this year by stepping up production at its existing fields in Egypt, Angola and Indonesia.

Eni has put exploration and rapid development of production at the heart of its strategy. Last year it launched production at Zohr in Egypt, the largest gas field in the Mediterranean, in a record time of two-and a-half years following its discovery.

It has diluted its holdings in some of those fields, including Zohr, as it strives to maintain financial discipline as it moves forward.

“Looking to the future, we see excellent growth prospects for all of our businesses,” said Descalzi.

“However, growth must be sustainable and we will pursue it in a disciplined way with great respect for the possibility of the most difficult operating conditions,” he added.

by Céline Cornu