The European Union’s law enforcement agency Europol has published the results of its latest investigation into the presence of fraudulent and substandard food and beverage products on the market.
Conducted by Europol in conjunction with INTERPOL, the international policy agency, the investigation, labelled Operation OPSON V, was conducted during a four-month period, from November 2015 through February 2016. The operation investigated and evaluated food products collected from shops, markets, airports, seaports and industrial sites. More than 4000 individual inspections were conducted in 57 different countries around the world, including the U.S., multiple countries throughout Western and Eastern Europe, and Australia.
According to the report, the OPSON V investigation resulted in the largest seizure of fraudulent and substandard food products in the history of OPSON programme. More than 5.5 million food items were seized, including more than 11,000 metric tons of food and over 1.4 million litres of beverages. Specific details of foods and beverages seized under OPSON V include:
- Condiments, such as vegetable oils, vinegar, salt, pepper, spices and a variety of sauces and seasoning products, represented the single biggest category of foods seized, accounting for 66 percent of total food tonnage. Twenty of the 57 countries participating in OPSON V reported condiment seizures. Most notable were the seizures of 423,000 litres of smuggled palm oil in Thailand and 7000 litres of fraudulent olive oil in Italy.
- Fruits and vegetables accounted for 15 percent of all seized goods, the second largest category. Fraudulent or substandard fruits and vegetables were seized during investigations in 13 different countries. An important finding was the increased use of copper sulphate and other illegal substances intended to enhance the look and feel of certain food products. This was the case in a seizure in Italy of 526 tonnes of olives that had been coloured with copper sulphate to make them look more green.
- Fraudulent and adulterated alcohol continues to be a significant problem, according to the OPSON V report, with a total of seizure of more than 385,000 litres. UK authorities reportedly seized 10,000 litres of fake or adulterated alcohol including wine, vodka and whisky. And Italian police seized 75,000 litres of sparkling wine that contained propylene glycol. The report strongly suggests the involvement of organised crime in the production and distribution of fraudulent or adulterated alcohol products.
In addition to the above seizure actions, the inspections also led to the initiation of 3567 criminal and administrative cases, the identification of nearly 1800 individual suspects and 41 separate arrests.
Operation OPSON is intended to identify counterfeit food and beverages, which are those products that infringe on the intellectual property of others, and substandard food and beverages, which are defined as products that do not meet the requirements of European and national laws related to its production, packaging, storage or distribution. OPSON operations are conducted annually, and supported by national customs agencies and food regulatory bodies, along with industry partners from the private sector.
The complete text of the OPSON V report is available here.