ROME, Jan. 11 (Xinhua) -- Helping curb the rising tide of non-Italian olive oil sold as an Italian product is proving to be a slippery matter, according to a new report from Coldiretti, Italy's national farmers' union.
Laws exist to guarantee the quality of Italian olive oil, one of the country's most traditional products and one of its main exports. But a report from Coldiretti said they are inadequate to the task of protecting the country's olive oil makers and guaranteeing high-quality oil for consumers.
The report said that around two of every three bottles of olive oil sold in Italy contained at least some oil produced outside Italy, but that was rarely indicated on labels.
Often, Coldiretti said, olive oil labels feature the Italian flag, images of famous Italian monuments, or the distinctive outline of the country's boot-shaped borders. Those images create the impression the oil was produced in Italy, where production standards and the quality of the olives are higher.
The biggest producers of the counterfeit olive oil are Spain and Greece, the report said. Oil from Tunisia is also on the rise, making it the largest country of origin for fake Italian olive oil outside the European Union.
Ettore Prandini, Coldiretti's president, told Xinhua Italy should work toward setting up controls to guarantee the origin and quality of oil being sold as from Italy. He said there are objective tests that examine the smell, color, density and chemical breakdown of oils that can be used.
"As things stand now, consumers suffer from an inferior product and the Italian olive oil industry is hurt even more because producers who make a high-quality and labor-intensive product are facing unfair competition," Prandini said.
Compounding the problem is the weather, which last year reduced domestic olive oil production by more than a third, nearing the lowest production level on record. Coldiretti has called for the government to take steps to protect the industry, including guarantees for minimum prices.
Meanwhile, Italia Olivicola, a consortium of olive growers, said that rules that limit olive production end up hurting oil makers and should be made more flexible to give farmers a way to combat poor production years.
"We need serious action aimed at allowing olive growers to increase production and adapt to increasingly frequent seasonal issues," Gennaro Sicolo, Olivicola's president, said in an interview.
The current law features fines for producers who use deceptive labels for their olive oil, and oil in specific areas protected by DOP rules (the initials stand for Denominazione di Origine Protetta, or Protected Designation of Origin, a quality guarantee) must pass through stricter quality controls. DOP olive oil protection areas are some of the best known, including Apulia, Liguria, Sicily and Umbria. But DOP oil represents less than five percent of the country's overall production of oil.
"The thing Italian olive oil makers need most is strict and enforced labeling laws that include some indication of the origin and purity of the oil," Nino Pascale, an agronomist and a former president of Slow Food, told Xinhua. "Without it, the olive oil industry will suffer damage that it will be difficult to recover from."