Italian fraud team unearths forged tomato paste and fake olive oil

July 5, 2002

The tin of tomato paste, its label gaudily decorated with a Neapolitan peasant girl in traditional costume and a smoking Vesuvius in the background, looks authentic.

"This is the kind traditionally used for making sauce for pasta," Salvatore Casillo, professor of industrial sociology at the University of Salerno, said. "In fact, the tomato paste comes from China. It was only tinned and labelled near Naples."

As director of Salerno's Centre on Forgeries, Professor Casillo has a mission: to expose industrial and commercial frauds and forgeries.

Each year, his centre concentrates on one specific commercial field and then holds an exhibition. "Over the past decade, we have exposed everything from counterfeit Johnson's Baby Shampoo to 'extra virgin' olive oil made from maize and palm oil," Professor Casillo said. "We have even discovered 'American' Marlboro cigarettes made near Naples."

There is hardly a commercial sector in which forgeries do not exist - books, for instance, from popular bestsellers to dictionaries, or "French" brandy or "Scottish" whisky produced thousands of miles from France or Scotland.

Professor Casillo explains that there are two basic types of fraud. In one, a major brand has its products manufactured by an independent company, which then sells similar products to an unscrupulous merchant who sells them as originals. In another, identical copies of packaging are filled with a cheap substitute.

Some cases are quite terrifying. "We discovered that powdered milk for animal feed was being converted into cheese for human consumption. Not to mention counterfeit pharmaceutical products, or old, expired foods such as mayonnaise, where the old label is removed and replaced with a fresh one. We once discovered a bakery that baked its bread using old tyres for fuel," he said.

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