Operation Opson nabs 3,600 tonnes of dodgy food

The latest Europol-Interpol food safety enforcement action has netted 3,600 tonnes of unsafe and fraudulent food.

The volume of counterfeit and substandard food intercepted in Operation Opson VII is well down on the 9,600 tonnes seized in the 2017 action, as was the amount of illegal and unsafe beverages, with 9.7m litres seized compared to 26.4m litres last year.

The big declines came even though the number of checks at shops, markets, airports, seaports and industrial estates was just 20 per cent down, at 41,000 versus 50,000 in 2017.

While the numbers were smaller, the fraudulent activity uncovered was just as unwholesome. In Belgium, rotten meat unfit for consumption was found on the shelves of supermarkets in an investigation that resulted in the closure of a major meat processing plant in the country. The company operating the plant has had its license to operate revoked.

In Spain, a factory packaged counterfeit infant formula mostly destined for China was shut down, and eight tonnes of fake product seized. According to Europol, the milk powder – bought in Poland for €1 per kilo and delivered to the plant in Barcelona – was not hazardous but lacked the nutrients needed by infants and was being produced in unsuitable premises.

The operation also discovered widespread fraudulent practices in the tuna fish industry – the first time that the Opson partners had zeroed in on a specific food product. Among the nefarious activities discovered was species substitution and fraudulently selling tuna intended as fresh by treating it with chemicals to alter its appearance.

Over the course of the four-month operation, 749 people were arrested or detained with investigations continuing in many countries, and Europol says 50 criminal organizations were dismantled.

“[This] is an important result in stemming the flow of potentially lethal products into the marketplace,” said Daoming Zhang, head of Interpol’s Illicit Markets unit.

“The volume of counterfeit and substandard products seized is a reminder to the public that they need to remain careful about what they buy and from where.”

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