T: olive oil fraud. A new study from the University of California at Davis claims more than two-thirds of random samples of imported extra-virgin olive oil don't meet the extra-virgin standard. From Capital Public Radio, Elaine Corn reports.

ELAINE CORN: The Olive Oil Chemistry Lab is on the Davis campus. It overlooks many of the campus's 2,000 olive trees. Managing the lab's olive oil forensics is chemist Charles Shoemaker.

D: We have our own CSI olive oil lab here.

CORN: To be extra virgin, it can't be rancid, adulterated with cheap, refined olive oil or doctored up - cut with lesser oils. Shoemaker wasn't all that surprised that many of the 14 major brands tested failed certain tests.

D: It's become a very sophisticated practice, the adulteration of olive oil throughout the world.

CORN: The lab says it can prove defects, degradation and dilution in olive oil, beyond what human taste buds can figure out. Shoemaker zeroes in on specific flaws.

D: We do spectroscopic studies, looking for oxidation.

CORN: That means the oil's old or rancid. Shoemaker also tests fatty acids.

D: To make sure the oil is all from olives and not from soybean, sunflower, or other types of oils.

CORN: No molecule can hide.


CORN: Shoemaker revs up a small vacuum. It removes solvents and isolates chlorophyll, which is always an oil made from green olives but never in lesser- grade seed oil. As it sucks the sample, he's patient.

D: It takes about 25 minutes per sample to do just this one step.

CORN: The U.C. Davis study was funded in part by the California Olive Oil Council. Oils were tested by some methods not yet recognized by international standards. And for that reason, Bob Bauer of the North American Olive Oil Association, which represents importers, disputes the Davis study.

M: It's irresponsible to create the misperception that they've done, based on unrecognized tests. These results directly contradict our 20 years of more extensive sampling than what those results show.

CORN: There's never been a legal definition in the U.S. for any grade of olive oil. Mounting concern over truth-in-olive-oil labeling has drawn in the USDA. New American regulations will conform to international standards. Olive oil from every olive oil-producing country, including America, will be subject to random sampling off retail shelves starting in October, using a lab in Georgia.

For NPR News, I'm Elaine Corn in Sacramento.

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