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.
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.
This article was part of our April Fool’s special edition. While the information about the Interpol seizure is indeed factual, we made up the new detection method (EFAS). 35% of poll participants were correct in guessing that this was the article that contained false information.
This week Interpol-Europol announced its largest-ever seizure of fake foods and beverages across 57 countries over a four-month time period. In total, Operation Opson V seized 10,000 tones and 1 million liters of food products between November 2015 and February 2016, with the following topping the list:
Fertilizer-contaminated sugar from Khartoum, Sudan (nearly 9 tons)
Olives painted with copper sulphate solutions to enhance color (85+ tons)
“Today’s rising food prices and the global nature of the food chain offer the opportunity for criminals to sell counterfeit and substandard food in a multi-billion criminal industry which can pose serious potential health risks to unsuspecting customers. The complexity and scale of this fraud means cooperation needs to happen across borders with a multi-agency approach,” said Chris Vansteenkiste, cluster manager of the Intellectual Property Crime Team at Europol in an agency release.
Other seized products worthy of note include:
Chicken intestines preserved in formalin from Indonesia (70 kg)
Monkey meat from Belgium
Locusts (11 kg) and caterpillars (20 kg) from France
Fake whiskey from Zambia (1300 bottles)
Tilapia unfit for human consumption imported to Togo (24 tons)
Honey from Australia (450 kg)
And for the false information:
At a recent conference for food laboratory professionals, Gavin Rosenberg, Ph.D., discussed an emerging analytical method that could be game changing in detecting adulterated products in the field. Using electrostatic fluorescence absorbance spectroscopy (EFAS), Rosenberg’s lab has been able to probe the chemical composition of products, from liquids to bulk and high-moisture foods, while simultaneously assessing concentration in products such as meat and even spices. The rapid and portable method is also highly sensitive and can provide trace detection of pathogens, dyes, antibiotics and pesticides within 60 seconds.
“While still in the research stage, EFAS has been utilized in several studies and has successfully been shown to detect contaminants as well as ingredients that are frequently added to adulterate food products,” said Rosenberg. He indicated that his team will pursue initial applications of the product to identify adulteration of olive oil (nearly 70% of olive oil is adulterated or diluted) and ground beef, specifically in the European and Asian markets.
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