Painted olives, tainted sugar top INTERPOL list of fake food

March 30, 2016

More than 11,000 tons of fake food and more than one million liters of fake beverages were recently seized in operation Opson V, the largest-ever groups of seizures, which spanned across 57 countries in an INTERPOL-Europol coordinated initiative to protect public health and safety.

According to a report from the investigation, among the products confiscated were nearly 10 tons of counterfeit sugar contaminated with fertilizer in Sudan, and more than 93 tons of olives in Italy that had been “painted” with copper sulfate solutions to enhance their color.

Involving police, customs, national food regulatory bodies and partners from the private sector, checks were carried out at shops, markets, airports, seaports and industrial estates between November 2015 and February 2016. The article explains that a number of arrests were made worldwide throughout the operation and investigations are continuing.

“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,” Michael Ellis, head of INTERPOL’s Trafficking in Illicit Goods unit said in the report. “With Operation Opson V resulting in more seizures than ever before, we must continue to build on these efforts to identify the criminal networks behind this activity whose only concern is making a profit, no matter what the cost to the public,” he continued.

In addition, officers in Greece discovered three illicit factories producing counterfeit alcohol and seized more than 7,400 bottles of fake alcohol and counterfeit labels. In the U.K., authorities recovered nearly 10,000 liters of fake or adulterated alcohol including wine, whiskey and vodka. In Burundi, Africa, more than 36,000 liters of illicit alcohol were also seized, the report states.

Other instances were discovered including the intent to sell various types of meat unfit for human consumption, and dietary supplements which were being sold online as a natural product but contained harmful ingredients. The sale of these fake weight loss products are estimated to have generated approximately $170,000 USD over a 10-month period.

“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 criminal industry which can pose serious potential health risks to unsuspecting customers. The complexity and scale of this fraud means cooperation needs to happen across borders with a multi-agency approach,” Chris Vansteenkiste, Cluster Manager of the Intellectual Property Crime Team at Europol said.

“This year again, 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. Sharing knowledge in one market may prevent food fraud in another and ultimately helps protect public health and safety worldwide,” he added.

Other examples of products seized include 150 pounds of chicken intestines in Indonesia, which were preserved in formalin, a prohibited food additive. Police in Bolivia also discovered a warehouse containing thousands of cans of sardines, with fake labels of a famous Peruvian brand ready to be applied.

In Hungary, Italy, Lithuania and Romania, customs and police authorities discovered counterfeit chocolates, sweets and non-alcoholic sparkling wine destined for export to West Africa.

In Togo, Africa officials destroyed more than 26 tons of imported tilapia which was found to be unfit for human consumption, and in Zambia, police discovered 1,300 bottles of fake whiskey and more than 3,200 cartons of diet powder drinks where the expiration dates had been modified.

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