Illicit alcohol tops latest Operation Opson haul

Enforcement agencies from 78 countries have detained hundreds of people and seized illicit and fraudulent food and beverage products worth more than €100m.

The latest Operation Opson, led by Europol and Interpol and extending over five months between December 2018 and April 2019, netted 16,000 tonnes and 33m litres of potentially dangerous fake food and drink.

The haul is a sizeable increase on the 3,600 tonnes of unsafe and fraudulent food and 9.7m litres of seized in the 2018 operation, overshooting event he record levels seen in 2017.

Illicit alcohol was the most seized item, totalling over 33,000 metric tonnes, while some of the headline seizures included tampered expiry dates on cheese and chicken, controlled medicines added to 14,000 litres of soft drinks in Zimbabwe, counterfeit honey and fake sweets sold to children in Lithuania.In Italy, 150,000 litres of tampered poor quality sunflower oil was found that had been made to look like extra virgin oil by adding chlorophyll and beta-carotene to the finished product. And for the first time the operation was expanded to include organic food products and the growing trend in products falsely claiming to be organic to hike their prices.

In the UK, there was a focused operation on 2,4-dinitrophenol (DNP) a toxic chemical that is added to products sold online as weight-loss aids. It is estimated that the equivalent of over 50,000 capsules of DNP have been prevented from being sold to consumers.

A targeted action was run across 14 European countries in order to uncover possible fraud involving coffee labelled as 100 per cent Arabica. For the first time the operation made use of laboratory testing to assess almost 400 samples, and that data is still being collated to verify their geographic origin.

The illicit products were seized as a result of more than 67,000 checks carried out at shops, markets, airports, seaports and industrial estates.

“Counterfeit and substandard food and beverages can be found on the shelves in shops around the world, and their increasing sale online is exacerbating the threat that food crime poses to the public," said Interpol’s director of organised and emerging crime, Paul Stanfield.

“Operation Opson VIII saw a substantial amount of counterfeit food and drink taken out of circulation, but there is much more that can be done.”

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