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More than 5,000 litres of adulterated olive oil have been seized in raids by police in Spain and Italy, The Guardian reported.

Eleven people were arrested in the raids, which broke up an international gang that had allegedly set out to pass off cheaper, lower quality oils as their more expensive equivalents virgin and extra virgin oils, the 4 December report said.

Carried out by the Guardia Civil in conjunction with Italy’s carabinieri and Europol, the investigation led to raids in both countries and a search of olive-processing cooperatives in the Spanish provinces of Ciudad Real, Jaén and Córdoba, the report said.

Following the discovery of “a series of anomalies” by Guardia Civil officers when inspecting a lorry transporting olive oil in the Ciudad Real region, police uncovered a two-pronged operation in Spain and Italy designed to distribute adulterated olive oil on the global market, The Guardian wrote.

“In Spain, they used a company that was linked to the acquisition of lower-category oils to make changes to cloudy and poor-quality oils to turn them into virgin and extra virgin and then sell them by falsifying documents,” the police were quoted as saying in a statement.

In Italy, the carabinieri had discovered a similar alleged falsification operation involving two important oil processing companies, the report said.

“Eight simultaneous searches were carried out in Spain and Italy and 11 people were arrested,” the statement said. “As a result of the searches, more than 5,200 litres of market-ready, adulterated olive have been seized, along with €91,000 [US$99,300] in cash and four high-end vehicles. A number of bank accounts have also been blocked.”

In a statement, Europol was quoted as saying the olive oil counterfeiting was a common practice.

“A mix of … factors, such as the general inflation of prices, reduced olive oil production and increasing demand, have created the perfect breeding ground for fraudulent producers,” it said.

“Mixing consumer-grade olive oil with lower-grade alternatives allowed the criminals to offer competitive prices while entering legal supply chains. This illegal practice can not only cause a public health risk, but also undermine consumer trust and thus have further economic repercussions.”

Olive oil prices had risen across Europe due to the effect of drought and other adverse weather conditions on harvests for a second successive year, the report said.

According to the International Olive Council, global production is expected to drop to 2.4M tonnes – down on last year’s harvest and well below global demand of about 3M tonnes.

Spanish production had been hit by drought and heatwaves of more than 400C, while the crisis had been heightened by extreme weather in other olive-producing countries such as Greece, Italy, Morocco, Portugal and Turkey, The Guardian wrote.

Spain, which produces half the world’s olive oil, was expected to produce 765,000 tonnes of olive oil this year – more than the 664,000 tonnes produced in last year’s poor harvest but well below the levels of around 1.3M tonnes in recent years, the report said.