Europol and Interpol seize fake food and drink

Would you drink this?A global police operation has resulted in the seizure of 2,500 tonnes of illicit food and beverages, including counterfeit alcohol, out-of-date seafood and mis-labelled coffee.

The joint operation between Europol and Interpol - called Opson IV - ran from December to January and involved checks at shops, markets, airports, seaports and industrial estates across 47 countries and resulted in a number of arrests.

The haul - almost twice the amount intercepted during last year's operation - included 275,000 litres of illicit beverages, including vodka, whiskey and beer, as well as tonnes of potentially hazardous food.

"Fake and sub-standard food and drink pose a real threat to health and safety," said Michael Ellis, head of Interpol's Trafficking in Illicit Goods and Counterfeiting (TIGC) unit which coordinated activities between the world police body's participating countries across the globe.

"People are at serious risk and in some cases dying because of the greed of criminals whose sole concern is to make money."

Among the most disturbing cases uncovered was the seizure by Italian officials of 31 tonnes of seafood being sold as fresh but which had been frozen before being doused with a chemical substance containing citric acid, phosphate and hydrogen peroxide to make the catch appear freshly caught.

The range of items uncovered is remarkable and gives a clear picture of the global scale of the illicit trade in counterfeit, mislabelled and adulterated food and drink. Other case studies reported by Europol and Interpol include:

  • An illegal factory producing fake name-brand vodka in the UK (see image);
  • A facility in Italy selling previously frozen and rotting seafood as fresh, disguised by spraying it with chemicals;
  • Out-of-date mozzarella made from Eastern Europe curd being sold in Italy, once again disguised as fresh using chemicals;
  • Coffee sold as Arabica in Spain that was actually a mix of inferior beans;
  • Counterfeit strawberries and smuggled caviar uncovered in France;
  • Food supplements allegedly derived from traditional Chinese medicines but containing high levels of mercury, found in Belgium;
  • Illicit dietary supplements intercepted in the US mail;
  • Illegal energy drinks imported from Brazil into Ivory Coast;
  • 200 boxes of banned sweets seized in Tanzania;
  • An operation producing fake whisky and Aguardiente in Colombia;
  • 20 tonnes of dried apricots containing excessive levels of sulphites found in Estonia;
  • Fake butter and tea in Egypt;
  • Eggs with forged quality certificates in Belarus;
  • Empty counterfeit bottles of mineral water in Norway;
  • Illegally imported meat in Thailand; and
  • An unlicensed water bottling plant in Sudan.

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