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Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) is sometimes called “liquid gold.” Coming directly from the first pressing of olives, EVOO is usually a little pricier than other oils and other olive oil mixtures, but it’s also less processed and free of additives.
Now, the world is experiencing an EVOO crisis, leading to massive olive oil heists. At the end of August, about 50,000 liters of the stuff was reportedly stolen from one of Spain’s oil mills, Marin Serrano El Lagar. That’s a haul worth more than €420,000 (around US$450,000). Before that, according to local media, thieves took off with 6,000 liters of EVOO, worth over €50,000 (US$54,000), from Terraverne oil mill.
Why are olive oil producers suddenly being looted for their products? Well, the output of EVOO is tanking, so its price is totally soaring. Spain, the world’s top producer of olive oil, has had its agriculture industry ransacked by the effects of climate change. Over the past two-ish years, extreme weather events, wildfires and droughts have weakened olive tree harvests. At the end of September, it was reported that Europe was pretty much out of local olive oil supplies.
“The harvest here is down 70-80%,” says Spanish olive grower Rafa Guzmán, who’s also the Jaén local head of Asaja, Spain’s biggest farming association. “There are some growers who haven’t even had a kilo of olives. Even if olive oil is selling for €8 a bottle, that’s not enough to keep them afloat. It’s just awful for people down here. There’s always been the odd bad harvest, like last year. But two bad harvests in a row? I can’t remember any – and I’m 50 and have been working the trees with my dad since I was a kid.”
This year, global olive oil production is expected to drop by over 50% to 2.4 million metric tons, which is below the demand for 3 million, according to the International Olive Council. Spain expects to produce 650,000 tons when it usually produces 1.3 million. Other Mediterranean countries are also seeing weakened EVOO production, with Greece expected to deliver a third less EVOO than last year.
Tunisia, Turkey and Syria even put olive oil export bans in place to protect this product from international price hikes. Even though Spain is the world’s leading producer of EVOO, it’s been hit the hardest by this crisis. In Spanish shops, a liter of oil has risen by 52.5% since last year – which is much higher than the European average of 38.3% and price hikes in other producing countries.