116 | Olive Crisis - a Food Fraud Warning | Dodgy Influencers Muddy Food Safety Messages |
Plus, doing the devils work at school and the potato paradox
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Olive crisis, a food fraud warning;
Dodgy Influencers Muddying Food Safety Messages;
Food Safety News and Resources;
The Potato Paradox;
Food fraud news, emerging issues and recent incidents
Olives, olives, olives. The world’s olive crisis is hitting supply chains hard. Olives are becoming so expensive and scarce that criminals are chainsawing off fruit-laden branches of olive trees, and even taking whole olive trees from ochards by night in Europe. Some growers are even microchipping their trees in response to the thefts.
Other notable news this week was a food defence incident in which a school janitor was adding his bodily fluids to food in the school’s cafeteria, claiming he was doing the work of the devil. How do you mitigate a threat like that in your food defence plan?
I delivered food defence training to a group of expert food safety consultants and auditors last week, and the discussions were quite lively! (Reply to this email if you would like to know more about my training services)
Welcome to Issue 116. A huge thank you to new subscribers 👏👏 Janja, Susan Marie and ‘Admin’ 👏👏 and to long-time subscribers Emily and Kariliz: it’s people like you who keep this newsletter alive.
If you consumed one of the 40 million turkeys gobbled up by Americans on Thanksgiving Day, I hope you had a lovely week.
This week’s issue has olives, a disturbing story about food safety messaging on social media and our weekly roundup of food safety news and resources (don’t miss the WTO’s free 2-day symposium on fraud in supply chains).
Thank you for being here,
P.S. “It’s a great way to keep up with all the news and research with food safety and fraud” said new subscriber Susan Marie about this publication. Paid subscribers get access to food fraud incidents in a searchable list, special monthly supplements and audio versions (enjoy my Aussie accent!) Click the button to learn more.
Olives in Crisis
The world’s olive crisis is hitting supply chains hard and fraud is rampant.
First it was the disease Xylella fastidiosa, which decimated olive groves across parts of Europe. Then came a drought in key growing areas of Europe. Production is down, and crime is up.
Olive oil is one of the most fraud-affected food products on earth, with reports dating back to the first century. The ancient historian Aelius Galenus described how merchants would dilute expensive olive oils with cheaper ingredients to increase their profits. A fifth-century Roman cookbook describes how to make cheap Spanish oil resemble expensive Italian oil by adding minced herbs and roots.
Since I began collecting food fraud stories in 2015, olive oil adulteration and misrepresentation have featured often, but in the past few months, the number of incidents has increased noticeably. And these days, it’s not just oil, other olive products are also at risk of food fraud.
I first started collecting information about threats to olive oil supplies in 2016, writing that olive growers were having trouble with pests and diseases, including Xylella fastidiosa, in Italy, Greece and Spain. In 2016, experts were predicting price rises for olives and olive oils in Europe, the United Kingdom and America because of risks to harvests from the disease.
One area hit hard by the disease was the Italian region of Puglia, which used to produce 50 percent of Italy’s olive oil. Xylella fastidiosa appeared in the region in 2013, and 21 million trees were lost to it within a few years.
Less high-quality Italian olive oil meant more motivation for fraud, and the criminals responded.
In 2017, a survey of more than three hundred thousand litres of olive oil, conducted over two years in Brazil found 64% of 279 samples were substandard, with some products containing 85% soybean oil.
Since then, the number of food fraud incidents for olive oil appears to have grown, with a startingly high number this year. Among the food fraud reports that I have seen and collected for the Trello-hosted Food Fraud Risk Information Database and The Rotten Apple, this year’s tally stands at more than triple the ‘usual’ annual count.
From 2015 to 2021 there were zero to four reports of olive oil fraud in international media per year. In 2022, that number climbed to six. This year I have counted fifteen.
It’s worth noting that this tally is indicative at best because it only captures incidents and survey results which are reported by mainstream media outlets or scientific journals AND discovered by me and my software during my searches for food fraud intelligence.
Olive fraud in 2023
In 2022, olive oil was predicted to become 25 percent more expensive due to droughts in the main olive-growing areas of Europe. However, the predictions fell short and prices have risen by significantly more than 25 percent.
Olives are becoming so expensive and scarce that criminals are chainsawing off fruit-laden branches of olive trees, and even taking whole olive trees from ochards by night in Europe. Some growers are even microchipping their trees in response to the thefts.
Last month, Bloomberg reported that European retail prices have doubled in the past year, and that EU exports of olive oil are expected to be lower by 10 percent.
In 2023 I have recorded a total of fifteen incidents and survey results from countries including Spain, Canada, Italy, Greece, Morroco, Brazil and Portugal. The fraud types included clandestine manufacture, marketing irregularities, theft of oil, theft of olives, labelling irregularities, blending with undeclared oils and mislabelling of the grade of oil.
In October I warned that due to the shortage of olives in Europe, non-European-grown oils could be fraudulently misrepresented as European oils.
Today’s food fraud news contains warnings about Moroccan olive oils, which are now subject to export restrictions to protect domestic supplies, after annual production dropped to less than half of 2021 levels following two years of drought in the country.
On the other side of the world, Brazillian authorities are closing down clandestine manufacturing sites, while Spanish law enforcement agencies have undertaken 300 different operations in olive growing areas, stopping vehicles full of stolen fruit, raiding oil mills and arresting mill operators who are processing stolen fruit. In Greece, the government is warning consumers of increased fraud risks and recommending they only buy their oil from reputable vendors.
Takeaways for food professionals
If you or your business purchase olive oil, limit your risk of purchasing fraud-affected oil by:
purchasing from reputable vendors and authorised stockists - avoid online stores, markets, street vendors, small independent outlets and anonymous sellers which are more likely to sell counterfeits and products from unauthorised or grey market sources;
purchasing premium brands, which are more likely to tightly control their supply chains;
considering sourcing oil from non-European growing regions, which may be less affected by scarcity and price increases;
paying attention to the taste and aroma of the oil and informing the vendor of any defects.
In short: 🍏 Olive oil has been vulnerable to food fraud since the beginning of recorded history 🍏 Experts have been warning of impending supply problems and price rises for olive oil since 2016 🍏 Tree diseases have decimated harvests in many major olive growing regions, and drought is also having a severe impact 🍏 Prices have increased significantly, for both olives and olive oil 🍏 Fraud activities in olives and olive oil appear significantly more numerous in 2023 compared to past years 🍏
Mueller, T. (2007). Italy’s Great Olive-Oil Scam. The New Yorker. Available at: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2007/08/13/slippery-business
Ministério da Agricultura e Pecuária. (n.d.). Inspeção do Ministério da Agricultura identifica 45 marcas de azeite fraudados. Available at: https://www.gov.br/agricultura/pt-br/assuntos/noticias/mapa-identifica-45-marcas-de-azeite-fraudados
Olive Oil Times. (2022). Reimagining the Xylella-Devastated Landscape of Southern Puglia. [online] Available at: https://www.oliveoiltimes.com/business/reimagining-the-xylella-devastated-landscape-of-southern-puglia/114128
Petroni, A. (n.d.). The plan to save Italy’s dying olive trees with dogs. [online] www.bbc.com. Available at: https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20230111-the-super-sniffer-dogs-saving-italys-dying-olive-trees.
Food Fraud Advisors Food Fraud Risk Information Database: Olive Oil. Available at: https://trello.com/c/GHwJnQGp/369-olive-oil
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Dodgy Influencers Muddy Food Safety Messages
Earlier this year, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that its cancer research agency (IARC) had classified aspartame as a possible human carcinogen. It also issued new dietary guidelines recommending that people should not use non-nutritive sweeteners like aspartame because they don’t help people lose weight and may also cause undesirable outcomes like an increased risk of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.
Within weeks, dieticians and health influencers were releasing videos explaining why consumers should not be concerned by aspartame’s cancer classification and reminding people that diet drinks are great alternatives to sugary drinks, using the hashtag #safetyofaspartame.
But does an individual dietician really know better than the group of experts at the World Health Organization’s Cancer Research Agency? A journalist at the Washington Post suspected something fishy.
After investigations, the Washington Post reported that ‘influencer’ dieticians were being paid by the food industry to “shape your eating habits” by promoting diet soda, products that contain non-nutritive sweeteners, on Instagram and TikTok.
Some of the videos were paid for by American Beverage, an industry organisation that represents large beverage manufacturers including Coca-Cola and Pepsico. And some of the influencers did not disclose that they were being paid, or the source of the funding.
Now, federal authorities have taken action against the influencers. The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) sent letters to food trade associations warning them they could be in violation of laws for not properly disclosing payments made to influencers who promote the nutritional ‘benefits’ and ‘safety’ of sugary drinks and aspartame-containing drinks.
Dieticians, nutritionists and other diet-health influencers also received individual FTC letters for not adequately disclosing they were making money from posts in which they disputed or downplayed the findings of the World Health Organization on the dangers of aspartame.
Food Safety News and Resources
Our news and resources section includes not-boring food safety news plus links to free training sessions, webinars and guidance documents: no ads, no sponsored content, only resources that I believe will be genuinely helpful for you.
This week’s low: a malicious contamination perpetrator brags about his work for the devil
Click the preview box below to access it.
The Potato Paradox (Just for Fun)
The potato paradox is a mathematical calculation with a counter-intuitive result.
Question: If you start with 100 kg of potatoes, which are 99% water by weight, and you dehydrate them until they are 98% water, how much do they weigh?
The suprising answer: 50 kg
Not sure? Check out this 1 minute video by Mathematigals for an explanation.
What you missed in last week’s email
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Cinnamon-Apple-Lead Poisoning Update;
Listeria supplement for paying subscribers (out now);
Mystery Bacillus explored;
De-crunching Doritos (just for fun);
Food fraud news, emerging issues and recent incidents
Below for paying subscribers: Food fraud news, horizon scanning and incident reports
📌 Food Fraud News 📌
Corn and soy organic fraud happening “every day”
The CEO of Clarkson Grain, a US-based supplier of organic and non-GMO grains says that fraudulent organic claims and fraudulent organic certifications are used daily in corn and soy supply chains.
“Every day, conventional corn and soy are sold with fraudulent organic certification.” Lynn Clarkson, CEO of Clarkson Grain
Under US organic rules, organic poultry and other meat animals must be fed organic grain. However, the US does not grow enough organic corn and soy to meet demand. It therefore relies on