Are the olives used to make your olive oil contaminated with herbicides?

Shaunice Wall is NCL’s Linda Golodner Food Safety and Nutrition Fellow

Olive oil and the Mediterranean are almost synonymous. Extra virgin olive oil, or EVOO, has been an unrivaled staple in the gastronomy of the health conscious. It has also been long time dubbed as “heart healthy” due to its high antioxidant and monosaturated fats, which can help lower “bad” LDL cholesterol and raise “good” HDL cholesterol. In fact, the Mediterranean diet was recommended as one of the healthiest diets in the latest edition of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

However, fraud in the marketing of EVOO has plagued consumers for decades. Too often, EVOO on the shelves of our grocery stores are low quality and falsely marked as high-quality virgin or extra-virgin olive oil. An additional common fraudulent activity of olive oil production is the mixing of fresh extra virgin olive oil with inferior, cheaper olive oils or oils of another botanical origin. In 2015, the National Consumers League (NCL) tested 11 different olive oils purchased at various supermarkets and discovered that six of them, despite being labeled “extra virgin,” in actuality did not meet the standards set by the International Olive Council (IOC).

Though the mislabeling of extra virgin olive oil is cause for major health concern, this year, a court in France has sketched an alternative alarm for consumers as they have now banned the use of the world’s most widely used weed killer in its country’s olive groves.

The controversy

Roundup Pro 360, which is the product brand name developed by Monsanto and now owned by the German pharmaceutical company Bayer, has grown to dominate the herbicide market and lists glyphosate as its active ingredient. A French court has ruled that based on scientific studies, Roundup Pro 360 is “a potentially carcinogenic product for humans, suspected of being toxic for human reproduction and for aquatic organisms.”

In 2015, the World Health Organization (WHO) had classified glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic to humans.” Despite this warning, the European Commission had approved a 5-year license renewal for the substance in November 2017. Partial and total bans of glyphosate also have been issued in about a dozen other countries since the release of that statement, including several other members of the European Union, Brazil, Canada and New Zealand.

Bayer (used interchangeably as Monsanto throughout this article) is appealing the French court’s decision, citing studies that prove glyphosate is safe. Bayer is currently facing more than 9,300 lawsuits over the negative health effects of Roundup and related products.

A European Parliament report revealed that the European Commission’s 2017 decision to extend the license for glyphosate was based on text that had been copied and pasted from Monsanto studies and included in an assessment by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) that concluded the substance is safe to use.

What one Greek study revealed 

The persistence of glyphosate and its primary metabolite AMPA (aminomethylphosphonic acid) was monitored in two areas in Southern Greece with a known history of glyphosate use, and the levels of residues were linked to spray operators’ activities. During a 3-year monitoring study, a total of 170 samples were collected and analyzed from both areas. Differences in the level of residues between areas, as well as sampling sites of the same area, were identified. AMPA persisted longer than the parent compound glyphosate in both areas. To translate: the olives contained residual amounts of Roundup Pro 360.

Infographic of Olive Oil imports to the U.S. and the use of herbicide.

How widespread is herbicide use? 

Weed control in olive groves is needed to prevent weeds from soaking up the moisture the olive trees need to thrive. As a result, herbicide use has become a common practice, especially in Spanish olive groves, and has rapidly increased in the past 20 years. In very mountainous regions, close to 90 percent of the olive groves are in a system using no-tillage and herbicides for weed control.

Why should the American consumer beware?

Olive oil is made by crushing olives into a paste with steel blades. The olives are stirred to release the oil droplets in a process called maceration before being spun in a centrifuge to pull out the oil and water. After the water is removed, what is left is olive oil. If the olives used in this process are contaminated with Roundup Pro, the consumer may be potentially ingesting dangerous cancer-causing (otherwise known as carcinogenic) chemicals.

Each year Americans consume more than 300,000 tons of olive oil and less than 5 percent of it is produced in the United States. The bulk of U.S. olive oil imports come from Europe, North Africa, and especially Spain, which accounted for 62 percent of all olive oil imports in 2016.

The EPA’s alleged collusion with Monsanto 

Studies conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. agency that regulates the use of herbicides and pesticides, claims the effects of glyphosate dietary exposure contradicts the declaration that it poses carcinogenic hazards by the World Health Organization. This inconsistency in study findings is subject to an ongoing investigation by EPA’s watchdog that is currently investigating allegations that former agency official Jess Rowland colluded with Monsanto during the review process to counter suggestions it endangers human health.

Exactly how much glyphosate is needed to pose the risk of cancer?

The limit in Europe is currently set at 0.5 milligrams (or 500 mcg) of glyphosate daily per kilogram of body weight, which works out to about 34 milligrams, or 34,000 mcg, for a 150-lb. person. The U.S. daily limit, set by the EPA, is 3.5 times as high as Europe’s, although some have called for a lower limit. We think the United States should adopt the stricter standards embraced by Europe.

What is NCL doing?

While regulatory agencies come to a common consensus on the use of Roundup Pro in the cultivation of olives, we at NCL continue to hold olive oil producers accountable for truth in labeling violations. We endorse the use of authentic organic products and believe in its long-term value. NCL aims to monitor product safety and continues to foster the economic protection of the consumer.

Script Your Future launches eighth annual student competition for innovations in medication adherence

January 21, 2019

Media contact: National Consumers League – Carol McKay,, (412) 945-3242 or Taun Sterling,, (202) 207-2832

Washington, DC—Today marks the launch of the eighth annual Script Your Future Medication Adherence Team Challenge, a two-month-long intercollegiate competition among health profession student teams and faculty for creating solutions to raise awareness about medication adherence as a critical public health issue. The Challenge, hosted by the National Consumers League (NCL), is returning to university campuses across the country after seven years of successful student competition and innovation.   

The Challenge is an integral part of Script Your Future, a campaign launched by NCL and its partners in 2011 to combat the problem of poor medication adherence in the United States, where nearly three out of four patients do not take their medication as directed. 

“With the aging of America’s baby boomer generation and the complexities of our healthcare system, the role of health professionals in helping patients preserve and improve their own health is more critical than ever. The Script Your Future Medication Adherence Team Challenge uniquely encourages an interprofessional approach and lays the foundation for adherence-minded care among future professionals before they enter the workforce,” said Sally Greenberg, NCL executive director. “For seven years, we have been blown away by the ingenuity of our student teams, their commitment to reaching patients with our messages of adherence, and their interest in positively impacting their communitiesWe look forward to seeing what this year’s Challenge will contribute to the discussion.” 

The Challenge is sponsored by the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy (AACP), the National Association of Chain Drug Stores (NACDS) Foundation, the National Community Pharmacists Association (NCPA), and the American Pharmacists Association (APhA)  

Starting today through March 22, inter-professional teamsincluding student pharmacists, nurses, doctors, and otherswill implement creative outreach approaches in their communities to raise awareness and improve understanding about medication adherenceAt the end of the Challenge, teams submit entries for review by national partner organizations, and winners are recognized for their efforts to improve medication adherence. 

“The Script Your Future Medication Adherence Team Challenge has provided a tremendous opportunity for health professions students to demonstrate how they can work collaboratively to improve patient care through better medication adherence,” said Dr. Lucinda L. Maine, Executive Vice President and CEO at the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy. “This Challenge, now in its eighth year, is a powerful example of the impact health professions teams can have on the public health issue of medication adherence.” 

Since the Challenge began in 2011, more than 15,000 future health care professionals have directly counseled nearly 65,000 patients and reached more than 24.5 million consumers about the importance of medication adherence. Last year’s National awardees were the University of Charleston School of Pharmacy and the University of the Sciences Philadelphia College of PharmacyPacific University School of Pharmacy earned the Rookie Award for their outstanding contribution during their second year of participation in the Team Challenge.  

In addition to the national-level awards, the Challenge also honors teams with focused awards in the areas of health disparities, communications and media outreach, and creative inter-professional team. In 2018, the Challenge honored the following schools with focused awards: Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine (LECOM); Touro University California College of Pharmacy; and the University of Pittsburgh School of Pharmacy, respectively.   

To learn more about last year’s winners, visit the Script Your Future website.  

For more information on the Challenge, visit the Challenge Community website at Tweet along with us during the Challenge using #SYFchallenge, and follow the campaign @IWillTakeMyMeds. 


About Script Your Future 

Script Your Future is a campaign of the National Consumers League (NCL), a private, non-profit membership organization founded in 1899. NCL’s mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information about the Script Your Future campaign, visit For more information on NCL, please visit

Federal government shutdown a boon to scammers

With the partial government shutdown about to enter Day 27, there is no shortage of stories about the shutdown’s impact on everyday citizens. With the shutdown hurting millions of Americans and costing the economy billions of dollars, one group is undoubtedly rooting for the shutdown to go on as long as possible: scammers.

That is because one of the agencies currently shut down is the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which is one of the government’s biggest cops on the beat against scam artists. In 2017, almost a quarter million consumers reported to the FTC that they lost nearly $1 billion to scammers. While those are certainly big numbers, we know that fraud is a historically underreported crime, so those losses are likely only the tip of the iceberg. 

Screenshot of the FTC's website with and alert showing that it is shutdown.

The FTC relies greatly on consumer complaints to drive its investigations. In 2017, the Commission collected 2.7 million such complaints, giving it the evidence it needed to take down scams of all kinds, from phony debt collectors, to identity thieves, to imposter scams to dozens of other types of cons. Unfortunately, for the past 27 days, the agency has been unable to accept complaints from consumers. That means that for the past 3+ weeks, scammers have been free to defraud Americans without having to worry about getting caught by the FTC. 

Consumers can file their complaints with other organizations, though none of them have the resources or investigative reach of the FTC. For example, state attorneys general typically take fraud complaints, but their investigative reach is often constrained by limited resources and they may lack expertise on the types of fraud that the FTC has investigated for decades. There are also a number of great nonprofit organizations, including the Identity Theft Resource CenterAARP’s Fraud Watch, and NCL’s own that collect complaints and provide counseling to fraud victims. For’s reports, we also typically amplify our impact by sharing our complaints with the FTC, which can and does investigate. With the FTC shut down, that information isn’t currently happening. 

With the FTC absent, scam artists’ jobs are made much easier. The plight of hundreds of thousands of furloughed federal workers – many living paychecktopaycheck – is rightfully getting plenty of attention. However, Congress, the White House, and the media should not ignore the millions of consumers who are being put at greater risk of fraud while the government remains shuttered. 

NCL applauds Supreme Court rejection of Consumer Bureau challenge

January 15, 2019

Media contact: National Consumers League – Carol McKay,, (412) 945-3242 or Taun Sterling,, (202) 207-2832

Washington, DC—In the face of unrelenting attacks against the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), a leading consumer organization is calling the Supreme Court’s rejection of the challenge to the CFPB a “huge victory for consumer protection.”

The CFPB was set up under the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform law. Since opening its doors in 2011, the Bureau has won $10.8 billion in consumer relief through enforcement actions.

This statement is attributable to Sally Greenberg, NCL’s executive director:

The CFPB’s independence from political winds is critically important to its work. Under former Director Rich Cordray, the Bureau took on many important cases and did a superb job of holding companies accountable for abusive financial practices. Since then, there have been efforts by Republicans and the financial industry to undercut its authority, arguing the agency had too broad powers.

At issue before the Court was whether the power of the CFPB’s sole director is in violation of the authority the U.S. Constitution gives a president to appoint and remove certain federal officials. A ruling in favor of the bank could have allowed a president to fire the agency’s director for any reason.

Congress, in its wisdom, set up the Bureau to be an independent agency and a bulwark against illegal practices of debt collection firms, student loan servicers, and unauthorized opening of fake bank accounts as we saw with Wells Fargo.

Rejecting the challenge to the CFPB’s constitutionality, brought by the State National Bank of Big Spring of Texas, now allows the Bureau to carry out its critically important consumer protection mission. Under Cordray, the Bureau amassed a terrific record of bringing cases against the worst actors in the financial service industry. Although the Trump Administration has shelved several rules and aggressively curtailed the agency’s enforcement, NCL has urged the Bureau to carry on Director Cordray’s consumer protection mission under the new director, Kathy Kraninger.

The indefensible attacks against the Bureau, led by organizations like the Competitive Enterprise Institute, that tout the absurd industry line that the Bureau is unconstitutional, are silenced for now. We agree with those in Congress who properly credit the agency for playing a critical role in protecting consumers.


About the National Consumers League

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit

NCL statement on drug importation legislation – National Consumers League

January 14, 2019

Media contact: National Consumers League – Carol McKay,, (412) 945-3242 or Taun Sterling,, (202) 207-2832

Washington, DC—As the nation’s pioneer consumer organization, the National Consumers League (NCL) strongly supports consumer access to safe, effective, and affordable prescription drugs. 

However, NCL is concerned that new legislation, the Affordable and Safe Prescription Drug Importation Act (S.97/H.R. 447) and the Safe and Affordable Drugs from Canada Act of 2019 (S. 61), which would allow medicines to be imported into the United States from foreign countries, would open the U.S. market to a flood of counterfeit and/or substandard drugs, putting patient health and safety at risk.

Counterfeit medications made with deadly ingredients have been found in over 40 states across America, posing a significant public health threat. There is no way to ensure that drugs purporting to come from Canada actually come from Canada. A Food and Drug Administration (FDA) evaluation of non-FDA-approved imported drugs revealed that “while nearly half of imported drugs claimed to be Canadian or from Canadian pharmacies, 85% of such drugs were actually from different countries.” Allowing importation will only serve to exacerbate the challenge of preventing counterfeit drugs from reaching American patients.

Every head of Health and Human Services and the FDA for the last 18 years has refused to certify the safety of drug importation. FDA Commissioner Gottlieb recently stated that 86 percent of the packages FDA inspectors seized in 2017 contained counterfeit or sub-standard drugs. NCL fears that authorizing importation would expose consumers to unknown risks and undermine the security of the U.S. pharmaceutical supply chain.

Rather than considering misguided importation proposals, NCL encourages Congress to strengthen our drug supply chain and pursue other strategies to ensure the affordability and accessibility of safe and effective prescription drugs.


About the National Consumers League

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit

Make a New Year’s resolution to get vaccinated against shingles

Nissa Shaffi

Shingles (herpes zoster) is caused by the varicella zoster virus (VZV), the same virus that causes chickenpox. Once a person recovers from chickenpox, the virus lays dormant in the body’s nerve cells, while the host remains asymptomatic. While scientists are not sure what causes the virus to reactivate in the form of shingles, it can present in individuals who are elderly or those who have compromised immune systems in general, due to medication or health conditions.

Shingles is a painful rash that usually develops on one side of the body, often the face or torso. The rash consists of blisters that typically scab over in seven to 10 days and clears up within two to four weeks. Even long after the rash has healed, shingles can lead to long-term complications in the form of postherpetic neuralgia (PHN)—severe nerve pain— at the site of the rash.  Although shingles is not contagious, VZV can spread from a person with active shingles to cause chickenpox in someone who has either never had chickenpox or has never received the chickenpox vaccine. The virus spreads through direct contact with the blisters, and a person is not infectious before the blister phase.

The only way to lower the risk of developing shingles is to get vaccinated. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that healthy adults 50 years and older get two doses of the new shingles vaccine called Shingrix to protect against the disease. The new vaccine is administered in a two-dose series, and the second dose is administered two to six months following the first dose. According to the CDC, it is imperative that patients complete the vaccine series as it provides greater protection than its predecessor Zostavax, which is a single-shot vaccine.

According to reports, a surge in demand for the shingles vaccine following the recommendations has led to a national shortage, leaving consumers searching far and wide for available doses. While news of the vaccine shortage is certainly unfortunate, the silver lining in this situation is that patients are taking proactive measures to protect themselves from illness.

NCL strongly advocates for the use of vaccines as a safe and effective preventive public health measure to protect against debilitating illnesses. A survey conducted by NCL in 2014 revealed that due to prevalent anti-vaccine rhetoric, nearly 33 percent of American consumers are misinformed about the benefit of vaccines. Vaccines are essential to public health as they protect vulnerable populations with diverse health needs. Adults and children who are not able to receive vaccines due to certain conditions rely on the general population for protection against disease, also known as herd immunity.

Consumers should feel at ease knowing that while shingles is a serious condition, your odds of developing the disease before the shortage ends are low. The CDC recommends that consumers call their local pharmacies or use Vaccine Finder to find their nearest available dose. If Shingrix is unavailable in your area, the CDC recommends that consumers 60 and older get the Zostavax vaccine.

If you have gone more than six months since your initial dose, the CDC states that you do not have to start the vaccine course over, but should instead promptly get the second dose to ensure maximum immunity. If you have already received your first dose of the vaccine, you can sign up for text, voice, or email reminders for your second dose. For more information on the causes and risk factors associated with shingles, please click here.