In what is considered the largest-ever seizure of fake food and beverages, a joint Interpol and Europol public health and safety operation netted more than 11,000 tonnes (about 11,000 US tons) and 1 million liters of food and drink in 57 countries.
Dubbed “Operation Opson V,” last month’s haul included Sundanese sugar contaminated with fertilizer and Italian olives painted with copper sulphate solutions to enhance color. Other products collected were thousands of bottles of fake alcohol at three illicit factories in Greece. Police seized the alcohol along with the equipment used in the manufacturing process to make labels, caps and empty bottles. Fake alcohol was also seized in the UK and Burundi.
“Today’s rising food prices and the global nature of the food chain offer the opportunity for criminals to sell counterfeit and substandard food in a multi-billion dollar criminal industry which can pose serious potential health risks to unsuspecting customers. The complexity and scale of this fraud mean cooperation needs to happen across borders with a multi-agency approach,” says Chris Vansteenkiste, cluster manager of the Europol intellectual property crime team.
Other food products collected during the investigation included a variety of fake meat and chicken intestines soaked in formalin, a substance prohibited as a food additive.
Authorities say false labeling was a common thread during the investigation, which uncovered adulterated honey in Australia and thousands of sardine cans in a Bolivian warehouse awaiting fake labels of a popular Peruvian brand. “Fake and dangerous food and drink threaten the health and safety of people around the world, who are often unsuspectingly buying these potentially dangerous goods,” says Michael Ellis, head of Interpol’s trafficking in illicit goods unit.
Made up of police, customs agents, members of national food regulatory bodies and partners from the private sector, the operation carried out checks at shops, markets, airports, seaports and industrial estates between November 2015 and February 2016. According to Interpol, a number of arrests were made worldwide throughout the operation, and investigations are continuing.
“The results from Opson clearly reflect the threat that food fraud represents, as food adulterations cut across all kinds of categories and from all regions of the world,” Vansteenkiste adds. “Sharing knowledge in one market may prevent food fraud in another and ultimately helps protect public health and safety worldwide.”