The US is not a member of the IOOC (international olive oil council) and is the only major olive oil producing and consuming nation not in it. The IOOC grades olive oil as
-Extra-virgin olive oil comes from the first pressing of the olives, contains no more than 0.8% acidity, and is judged to have a superior taste. There can be no refined oil in extra-virgin olive oil.
-Virgin olive oil with an acidity less than 2%, and judged to have a good taste. There can be no refined oil in virgin olive oil.
-Olive oil, which is a blend of virgin oil and refined virgin oil, containing at most 1% acidity. It commonly lacks a strong flavor.
-Olive-pomace oil is a blend of refined pomace olive oil and possibly some virgin oil. It is fit for consumption, but it may not be called olive oil. Olive-pomace oil is rarely found in a grocery store; it is often used for certain kinds of cooking in restaurants.
-Lampante oil is olive oil not used for consumption; lampante comes from olive oil's ancient use as fuel in oil-burning lamps. Lampante oil is mostly used in the industrial market.
Since the US isn't a part of the IOOC, this system doesn't apply. The only grades the USDA has for olive oil are Fancy, Choice, Standard, Substandard. Oil is graded based on acidity, absence of defects, odor and flavor. This means the US is a dumping ground for old and mislabeled oil from all over the world. As a result, that "extra-virgin olive oil" really means nothing in the US, it can be applied to any grade of oil. So be weary of paying extra for that extra virgin/virgin olive oil, cause it may not be so great after all.
I'm really having trouble putting my words together. I am very picky about my olive oil and have a hard time sympathizing with someone who continues to buy a poor product. I get that they were deceived and some of the people that took advantage of them are flat out crooks, but I'm not going to put that on me.
There have always been snake oil salesmen and I'm constantly on the defensive when making any substantive purchase. But I'm a consumer and I'm going to educate myself to the best of my ability. Once I become a partially informed consumer I try to look for a quality/price ratio that fits my needs. But until I start to become informed I can't make a wise purchase.
The way I understand it, the IOC was set up in the late 1950's. Since that time there has certainly been numerous scandals...some big ones as recently as only a few years ago in Italy. There are crooks out there and they'll take advantage of ignorant consumers in any industry and in every sector from any part of the world.
The article makes mention of deceptive marketing practices and labels adding to the confusion. Again, I agree...but at some point you become frustrated with the quality of the oil being inferior to the superior label or verbiage and choose to either seek out quality oils or continue buying the same stuff that you have been.
I wish it were easier to find good quality olive oils. But it's certainly easier now than it used to be. I know that I've made a few posts regarding buying fresh harvest olive directly from the producer.
Again, don't think the IOC has had everything under control because they haven't. Earlier this year the USDA had published new standards petitioned by the COOC, they are supposed to go into effect in October. But again, the IOOC/IOC has had their problems with olive oil fraud over the years...the best defense is to educate yourself...and your palette.
For all the restaurants that are caught up into this it should be a wake up call!