Condiments such as vegetable oil, spices and sauces are the most faked and illicitly traded food products, according to findings from a massive international operation.
Led by Interpol and Europol, Operation Opson V ran for four months across 57 countries. It revealed that 66 per cent of all counterfeit food and beverage seizures were condiments, with 20 out of the 57 countries reporting seizures of this type.
Vegetable oil, vinegar, salt, pepper, spices and sauces were among the condiments seized, with significant seizures of Italian-made fake olive oil. Authorities also seized around 423,000 litres of smuggled palm oil in Thailand and 1.5 tonnes of smuggled mayonnaise in Colombia.
In total, the operation seized nearly 1.5 million litres and more than 11,000 tonnes of products from shops, markets, airports, seaports and industrial estates during the operation.
Fruit and vegetables were found to be the second most counterfeited category, with almost 2,000 tonnes seized, making up 15 per cent of all seizures. The largest seizures in this category were olives from Italy. Potatoes, herbs, pistachios and dates were other products seized in this category.
Counterfeit seafood, fish and fish products were ranked third, with just over 900 tonnes seized, making up 8 per cent of seizures.
Regarding the types of good measured in litres, condiments were the most counterfeited representing 35 per cent of products seized, followed by 385,000 litres of alcohol, representing 27 per cent, and non-alcoholic beverages representing 25 per cent. In the UK, authorities recovered nearly 10,000 litres of fake or adulterated alcohol including wine, whiskey and vodka.
In a number of cases, checks at airports identified international travellers importing illicit products. Customs officers at Zaventem airport in Belgium discovered several kilos of monkey meat and in France, officers seized and destroyed 11 kilos of locusts and 20 kilos of caterpillars.
The operation busted several criminal counterfeit networks including: a counterfeit branded whisky operation in Zambia, where 900 fake bottles and 2,250 litres of ethanol were seized along with other materials; sugar trafficking in Sudan, where 8.6 tonnes of counterfeit sugar was found to be contaminated with fertilisers; and an Italian racket where more than 526 tonnes of olives painted with copper sulphate solution to enhance their green colour were seized.
Over the course of the operation there were more than 4,000 inspections with 3,567 administrative and criminal cases initiated and 41 arrests.
Forty-nine per cent of the infringements were fiscal, 19 per cent were food safety offences, and 17 per cent were around deceiving customers. "On a regional level, those proportions vary significantly and reveal that participating countries face different challenges," the report said.
"Since 2011, the fight against food fraud has become a growing concern for all law enforcement bodies, due to the strong impetus given by politicians, notably at the European Union level. Throughout the globe, awareness has also increased significantly. Major steps have been taken towards the development of a more comprehensive approach against counterfeit or substandard food and beverages. The participation of 57 countries in Opson V, the highest since 2011, reflects this awareness and commitment to effectively tackle the issue. The increased involvement of the food industry in Opson has led to better operational results," the report said.
"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," said Chris Vansteenkiste, cluster manager of the intellectual property crime team at Europol. "The complexity and scale of this fraud means co-operation needs to happen across borders with a multi-agency approach."
The Opson operation began in 2011 focusing on 10 countries and over the years this has expanded. This year's Opson V saw the largest haul of seized goods because more countries were involved and the growing awareness of food fraud.
The full report can be found here: https://www.interpol.int/News-and-media/News/2016/N2016-139