olive oil
© AFPOlive oil production in Spain and Italy declined by 20 percent in the 2022-23 season
Spain is experiencing a wave of thefts of a particular product that has become exceptionally expensive this season, as reported by Bloomberg. Another audacious theft of Spanish olive oil, this time valued at over half a million dollars, is the latest example of how record-high prices are fueling crime among the largest producers.

Approximately 50,000 liters of first cold-pressed olive oil, ready for packaging, disappeared early on the morning of August 30th from a factory in the Spanish province of Córdoba. Thieves loaded the highest-quality oil into two tankers worth 500,000 euros in the dark, a process that likely took about two hours, according to local producers.

Food product theft is not new globally but the recent surge in olive oil thefts highlights how hotly demanded this food product has become due to a drought in Spain, leading to a sharp increase in prices. Thefts and the sale of counterfeit products in stores are another major headache for producers who are grappling with extreme weather conditions, rising costs and concerns about demand as cost-conscious consumers cut back.

Comment: For an increasing number of people across the planet, including the West, it's not about being 'cost conscious', it's about being forced to choose between eating something of inferior nutritional quality or not eating at all: Food prices in Italy soar past twice the rate of inflation

"Everyone is worried because the prices will keep rising and olive oil is truly becoming like liquid gold," said Martín Parra, manager of Marin Serrano El Lagar SL, a company that fell victim to a theft last week in Córdoba's Carcabuey.

The olive oil crisis in Spain is reminiscent of how climate change threatens supplies. Devastating drought has cut olive oil production in the country in half for the 2022-23 season and production issues in Italy have further reduced global supplies. Drought and heat this year also threaten Spain's future harvest with the farming group ASAJA expecting a similarly poor yield.

Comment: Drought might have had an impact, however numerous countries, including Spain, have also suffered unprecedented flooding, furthermore temperatures across much of Europe have actually been slightly lower than average.

This has caused spot prices in the southern region of the country to more than double since the beginning of last year. The cost of a bottle of first cold-pressed olive oil has risen by approximately 15% since mid-July in Spanish supermarkets, according to the consumer association OCU.

Price increases often lead to a rise in crime in the raw materials sector from platinum and copper to timber. As for olives, bandits target both freshly harvested fruits and those still on the trees, as well as processed oil. According to a government agency, in the key Spanish region of Jaén during the 2022-23 season, approximately 259,000 kilograms of olives were stolen, a 29% increase compared to the previous year.

In mid-August, thieves attacked a storage facility in Teba, Málaga, making off with 7,000 liters of olive oil. They not only took packaged oil but also spilled it on the floor while attempting to bottle it.