Counterfeit and substandard food and drink worth an estimated €230 million has been seized in a joint operation coordinated by Europol and Interpol.
The sixth Operation Opson resulted in the confiscation of 9,800 tonnes of food and over 26.4 million litres of beverages and other liquids from organised food fraudsters in 61 countries around the world.
Products impounded included alcohol, mineral water, seasoning cubes, seafood and olive oil, as well as luxury goods such as caviar, Europol said in a statement.
Law enforcement agencies from countries that participated in the operation carried out more than 50,000 checks at shops, markets, airports, seaports and industrial estates between 1 December last year and the end of March.
“OPSON VI confirmed the threat that food fraud represents, as it affects all types of products and all regions of the world,” said Chris Vansteenkiste, head of Europol’s Intellectual Property Crime Coordinated Coalition (IPC3).
“In addition we saw some new trends such as counterfeit mineral water. Once again the good cooperation on a European and global level was paramount to disrupt the criminal gangs behind the illicit trade in counterfeit and unregulated food and drink.”
German investigators used the operation to focus on undeclared peanuts, cashew nuts and almonds in hazelnut products imported into the country, while authorities in France seized more than 179,000 counterfeit seasoning cubes illegally bearing a famous trademark.
Italian police targeted an organised criminal group involved in the production and distribution of fake wine. Carabinieri officers and anti-mafia detectives arrested three people in connection with the scam, which involved adding pure alcohol to low-quality wine and selling it packaged with fake official labels.
In Portugal, the local food safety standards authority raided a factory in the Porto area, resulting in the discovery of processed fish manufactured without respect for safety rules, while investigators in neighbouring Spain arrested four individuals working in a company selling clams unfit for human consumption.
Françoise Dorcier, Coordinator of Interpol’s Illicit Goods and Global Health Programme, commented: “This operation has once again shown that criminals will fake any type of food and drink with no thought to the human cost as long as they make a profit.
“Whilst thousands of counterfeit goods have been taken out of circulation, we continue to encourage the public to remain vigilant about the products they buy.”
The results of the operation were revealed after MEPs last month agreed new rules to tighten up official inspections throughout the food chain. The new regulations are intended to improve food traceability, combat fraud and restore consumer trust in the integrity of the food chain, partly in response to the 2013 horsemeat scandal.
A final report on the results of Operation Opson is scheduled to be published in the next few months.