British supermarkets have admitted that they could be selling olive oil produced in a way which kills millions of songbirds every year, as they promise to investigate their sourcing.
Many harvesters across Italy, Spain and France suck olives from trees using machines, and do this at night, which means sleeping birds who think they have found sanctuary in the olive branches are dazzled by the bright lights and sucked to their deaths.
These companies harvest during the evening because doing so is believed to preserve the aroma of the olives, due to the cooler air temperatures.
Birds including robins, goldfinches, greenfinches, warblers and wagtails are among the worst affected during the harvest season which is between October and January. Findings in the journal Nature suggested that over two million birds were killed in Spain alone in a year.
An investigation by The Telegraph found that British supermarket shelves are likely stocking olive oils produced in this ecologically destructive method.
Supermarkets including Waitrose, Tesco and Sainsbury’s could not confirm whether the brands they stock are machine harvested at night.
A Tesco spokesperson said the supermarket is investigating how it will pick olives for its oils this year after concerns were raised by shoppers.
They said: “All the whole olives that we sell are harvested during the day by hand or by using hand held tools. We won’t be harvesting olives for olive oil until October.
“We’re currently looking into how we pick these olives so, by the time it comes to harvest them, all the necessary changes will have been made.”
Waitrose and Sainsbury’s spokespeople confirmed that their own-brand olives and olive products are hand-picked, but did not confirm whether the other brands they stock are similarly ethical.
A Waitrose spokesperson added: “All the olives that are either destined to be used in Waitrose table olives or Waitrose olive oils are either picked by hand or picked using a handheld tool.”
Major olive oil brand Filippo Berio is investigating its olive sourcing after being contacted. A spokesperson said in a statement: “As far as we are aware, all the co-operatives that Filippo Berio buy olive oil from have mills that work during the day and clean-up at night. We will keep consumers updated as and when we have more information.”
Consumers who want to make sure they are using bird-friendly olive oil should check for ‘FAO GIAHS’ on Italian olive oil brands – it stands for ‘Globally Important Agricultural Heritage System’ which means it’s picked by hand.
Brands which confirmed they hand-pick their olives are mostly the smaller, more expensive companies. These include Clearspring, Donna Lucia, Kalios; Morocco Gold, Olivocracy, Oro del Desierto,Terre di San Vito and Zaytoun.