The usual culprits are leading the list of seized feed and food counterfeits in the latest OPSON X Operation: Alcoholic beverages, dietary supplements and grain-based products, followed by produce. In the Operation OPSON activities, Europol and Interpol join forces to combat counterfeit and fake animal feeds, foods and beverages. This year’s operation unearthed 15,000 tons of potentially dangerous products, worth $60 million, an increase in 3,000 tons over the previous year.
Many things have changed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and here is some good news: Organized crime activity related to food crime has decreased during the first months of 2020; the crimes shifted to medicines and medical devices instead. Apparently, the pandemic has disrupted the criminal activities and supply chains. During another successful Europol and Interpol operation, OPSON IX, 12,000 tons of products with a value of $40 million were seized. The top of the list of affected products were animal feed, alcoholic beverages and produce. The two million liters of fraudulent and substandard alcoholic beverages seized show that these products continue to be a significant threat to human health.
A substantial number of countries and private partners around the world participate in OPSON, a concerted effort of Europol and Interpol, established in 2011. OPSON operations protect public health and fight organized crime groups who are involved in the production and distribution of fraudulent food and beverages. More than 3,000 cases were detected, with alcohol, grains and condiments leading the statistics, at a total value of $130 million worth of products seized. Seventy-eight organized crime groups were uncovered, and more than 3,000 people arrested. Many of these subpar food and beverage products were a danger to health and life of humans and animals.
Organic produce is a lucrative and growing market and an easy target for food fraud. Mislabeled organically certified pistachios were bringing in up to 80% more revenue than conventional nuts, resulting in a €6 million profit. European officials including Europol uncovered the illegal operation and made 14 arrests in Spain. Forensic analysis showed that the pistachios contained illegal pesticides.
Europol, the European police authority, estimates that up to 15% of pesticides are unapproved or counterfeit, resulting an annual impact of more than $6.5 billion on the legitimate pesticide industry. It is often unknown what ingredients are in these counterfeit products. Such substances, often sold online, can pose serious health and environmental risks. During the first half of 2020, Europol has seized a record amount of unapproved pesticides. Profit margins for criminals are very high due to relatively low production costs for pesticides. Criminals avoid the tedious, expensive and lengthy approval processes which are usually contributing significantly to the pesticides’ costs.
The ninth OPSON operation, a cooperation between Europol and Interpol, included 83 countries around the world. OPSON IX targeted organized crime groups involved in food and beverage fraud. The substandard and fraudulent products potentially pose significant risk for consumers. Animal feed and alcoholic beverages made the top of the list of seized products, followed by grains, coffee and tea, and condiments. The officials also ran special campaigns to uncover fraudulent dairy products, olive oil and horsemeat.
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