Europe crackdown on fake pesticides results in huge haul

More than 122 tonnes of counterfeit pesticide has been seized in a Europe-wide operation at seaports, airports and land borders.

The 10-day Operation Silver Axe II, carried out by Europol and the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF), inspected more than 940 shipments of plant protection products across 16 countries, detecting 48 cases of counterfeit pesticides, including IP infringements, products containing potentially unknown and unauthorised chemicals, and false transit declarations.

The 122 tonnes of pesticide seized is enough to spray 4,888 square kilometres, which is equivalent to almost twice the size of Luxembourg or 452,000 football fields.

The operation, which was targeting the "emerging menace" of counterfeit and substandard pesticides making their way onto the European market, has led to the initiation of further investigations by the authorities.

"Pesticides, like all high-value goods, are targeted by counterfeiters. But unlike fake shoes or t-shirts, counterfeit and illegal pesticides do present a very real risk to people's health and the environment. There has to be a zero-tolerance policy for such criminal activities," said Graeme Taylor, director of public affairs at the European Crop Protection Association (ECPA). "Silver Axe has again highlighted the extent of the problem and the need to keep working together to fight it."

Most of the fake pesticide was produced in China, and some of the chemicals used could be dangerous, which could combust in extreme temperatures, damage crops, pollute the environment and harm human health, according to the Europol's intellectual property crime unit in an interview with The Sun Daily.

According to Europol figures published earlier this year, 13.8 per cent – equivalent to €1.3bn – of the EU plant protection product sector's sales are lost as a result of fake pesticides, along with 2,600 jobs. European Commission estimates suggest that as much as 10 per cent of all pesticides in Europe are fake.

Taylor said the vast majority of fake pesticides entered Europe by being smuggled in or under the cover of parallel imports. The products arrived as active substances, bulk consignments of pre-manufactured concentrate or as fully finished packaged goods (sometimes with no user instructions).

Trade associations have called for a clampdown on the illicit goods and many countries have looked to strengthen anti-counterfeit activities. In Scotland, for instance, a campaign to raise awareness of the bogus chemicals is seeing police officers visit farms to warn of the fake pesticide threat, while in England, Operation Silo is investigating the distribution of illegal pesticides across Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Berkshire.

This is the second phase of Operation Silver Axe, which is becoming a recurring operation supported by Europol's Intellectual Property Crime Co-ordinated Coalition (IPC3).

The first operation at the end of 2015, resulted in 190 tonnes of fake pesticide seized from 350 inspections across seven countries.

The success of the operation was grounded in collaboration and co-operation, Europol said, and involved the exchange and analysis of data from the participating countries, as well as liaison with rights holders from the private sector and representatives of the plant protection industry, including CropLife International, ECPA and the European Crops Care Association (ECCA).

"This operation demonstrates once again that working with co-ordinated efforts is the key element for successful results against criminal businesses who compromise the health and safety of our citizens in their rush for easily gained money," said Wil van Gemert, Europol's deputy executive director of operations.

"Europol will continue to support the co-operation of law enforcement agencies with the plant protection industry. Our contributions based on the intelligence exchange and data processing will undoubtedly facilitate other operational successes of this kind in the future."

Hans Mattaar, technical director at the ECCA, also acknowledged this. "The success of this operation is not only measured in the seizure of 122 tonnes of illegal pesticides," he said. "At least as important is the co-operation between the enforcement agencies of a growing number of Member States. The co-ordinated action will lead to increased efficiency in the fight against this form of organised crime, which poses a threat to human health, crops and the environment."

The countries involved in Operation Silver Axe II were: Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Sweden, Spain, UK and the Netherlands.

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