Illicit alcohol tops Operation Opson's EU seizure haul

Enforcement agencies from 26 EU countries have detained dozens of people and seized around 27,0000 tonnes of fraudulent and potentially hazardous food and beverage products – including 15m litres of alcoholic beverages.

That's the first readout from the latest Operation Opson, coordinated by Europol in the EU and Interpol elsewhere, which took place between December 2021 and May 2022.

Europol's report on the enforcement action records around 74,000 checks by the authorities, which resulted in 80 arrest warrants, 137 individuals being reported to judicial authorities, more than 175 criminal cases being opened along with over 2,000 administrative cases,

Alcoholic drinks were the most-seized item in terms of quantity, followed by: cereals, grains and derived products; fruits/vegetables/legumes; food supplements/additives; sugar and sweet products; meat and meat products; seafood; dairy products; and poultry products.

"Operations against food fraud target criminal networks that can seriously harm consumer health and safety," said Europol in a statement.

"From rotten tuna to fake vodka with methyl alcohol and counterfeit vitamins, illegal food and beverages are a serious threat to EU citizens, who are often unaware that they are consuming poisonous products," it continued. "To detect criminal activities, the national authorities conducted checks in customs areas, in physical and online market places, and across the food supply chain."

Targeted actions were carried out this year on seafood fraud as well as alcohol and wine. For example, the Italian NAS Carabinieri reported to the judicial authorities the owners of a winery who produced and marketed "sophisticated and altered" wine, sometimes adulterated with water, sugar and natural aromas. In some cases, they also declared a higher alcohol content than the actual one.

The Italian authorities seized the winery, 11 motor vehicles and 1 million litres of wine, according to Europol.

The Spanish Guardia Civil meanwhile dismantled a network selling molecularly modified gardenia imported from Asia as the expensive spice saffron. Three companies have been investigated, resulting in the arrests of 11 people and the interception of 10,000 kg of gardenia extract, which – if sold as saffron – would have been worth about €750 000 ($775,000).

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