Is that really extra-virgin olive oil in the bottle?

An olive oil scandal in Europe has trickled down to Singapore, with the Republic's consumer watchdog writing to supermarket chains to verify that the extra-virgin olive oil they sell is truly what they say it is.

The move by the Consumers Association of Singapore (Case) comes on the back of an investigation by the anti-fraud police in Italy into seven of its best-known olive oil companies for allegedly passing off inferior virgin olive oil as extra-virgin oil. Those implicated include Bertolli and Carapelli olive oil brands, which are popular here.

Case sent the letter to FairPrice, Cold Storage, Giant and Sheng Siong supermarkets last Monday. Its executive director Seah Seng Choon said: "As extra-virgin olive oil is of higher quality and usually more expensive, consumers should be buying what they are paying for.

"Misrepresenting that the olive oil supplied is extra-virgin, when it is not, is an unfair practice under the Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) Act. We expect supermarkets to take appropriate action if it has been confirmed that the extra-virgin olive oil sold in the market is of inferior quality."

Supermarkets here have contacted their suppliers, who are, in turn, liaising with producers in Italy, the world's second-largest producer of olive oil after Spain.

Bertolli and Carapelli have assured FairPrice and the Dairy Farm Singapore-run Cold Storage and Giant chains, which sell their products, that their extra-virgin olive oil is authentic.

"Nonetheless, we understand investigations are still ongoing, and we are closely monitoring this matter," said a FairPrice spokesman, adding that none of its house-brand olive oil is produced by the companies under probe.

Sheng Siong said it does not carry the brands in question.

Bertolli's exclusive distributor here, DKSH Singapore, said it too has checked with oil producers, who said "the quality of their products is of a high standard".

The sole importer of Carapelli olive oil here, Dawood Exports, has now asked Carapelli to deliver each batch of extra-virgin oil with a certification of analysis. Its sales manager for retail Anna Soh said: "We have to be more careful when importing now. We will follow up with the necessary action after the investigation if needed."

Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) figures show that Singapore imported about 2,600 tonnes of olive oil from January to October this year, mostly from Italy and Spain. AVA said, so far, the olive oil sampled here has passed tests and is safe for consumption.

In Singapore, passing off lower- quality olive oil as extra virgin is illegal, and a first conviction can result in a fine of up to $5,000.

Virgin olive oil comes from the first press of olives. Extra-virgin olive oil is considered the best-quality olive oil, and less acidic. Virgin olive oil is about 30 to 40 per cent cheaper and more acidic, experts said.

Businessman Ricky Chan, 53, who buys extra-virgin olive oil, said: "If I buy something, I expect to be getting what I paid for. Otherwise, I would feel very cheated."

This article was first published on Nov 30, 2015.
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