EU law enforcement agency Europol has seized 150,000 litres of fraudulent olive oil and arrested 20 people in a joint operation with the Italian NAS Carabinieri and the Tribunal of Darmstadt in Germany.

Europol said on 14 May that the gang had tampered with the colour of low-quality sunflower oil by adding soya oil, chlorophyll and beta-carotene to make the product look like extra virgin olive oil.

The accused acquired 1M litres/year of sunflower oil for about €1M (US$1.1M) and resold the processed product at prices between €5 (US$5.60) and €10 (US$11.14) per litre.

The fraudulent olive oil was produced at an unregulated mill in Italy under unsanitary conditions which afterwards, was transported to warehouses in Germany for distribution.

The criminal organisation responsible had earned about €8M (US$9M) annually from their activity, Europol said.

The 150,000 litres were seized at different locations, including five trucks carrying 23,000 litres of the product each.

The investigation began in 2015, after the Italian Ministry of Health alerted authorities of the sale of counterfeit olive oil.

The individuals were arrested in the Foggia region in southern Italy.

In the same year, a joint operation between Europol and the international police organisation Interpol resulted in the seizure of €230M (US$290M) of counterfeit and substandard food and beverages across 61 countries, Olive Oil Times wrote.