SPANISH police have seized 300 tonnes and 39,000 litres of ‘counterfeit’ food and drinks, many falsely labelled as organic.
They were acting as part of the Europe-wide Operation Opson which in total saw €100 million worth of food and drink seized.
This year Spanish police were asked to keep an eye out for mislabelled ‘organic’ produce. The Guardia Civil’s Seprona environmental division made more than 2,500 checks and inspections at shops, markets, airports, seaports and industrial estates.
They have reported more than 1,500 administrative offences and 13 criminal offences, with 35 people arrested/investigated. More than 90,000 tonnes of suspicious organic products were checked.
The illicit practices uncovered include the use of unauthorised substances, the diversion of conventionally produced food to the organic market and the use of falsified documents to blur the traceability of the products.
The Guardia Civil was working with INTERPOL and Europol and focusing on the fight against counterfeiting, adulteration, sale, labelling, illegal trade or distribution of food products and economic fraud.
At the request of the European Food Fraud Network this year, the operation focused on everyday products such as meat, fish, eggs, oil and spices, labelled as organic.
This year 78 countries participated in the eighth edition of Operation Opson. Members of the police, Customs, as well as public and private organisations participated.
Across Europe 672 arrests were made, with investigations ongoing in many countries.
In total, some 16 000 tonnes and 33 million litres of potentially dangerous fake food and drink was seized as a result of more than 67,000 checks carried out at shops, markets, airports, seaports and industrial estates.
Tampered expiry dates on cheese and chicken, controlled medicines added to drink products and meat stored in unsanitary conditions were some of the offenses discovered during the operation.
As in previous operations, illicit alcohol was the most seized item, totalling over 33,000 tonnes, followed by cereals and grains (3,628 tonnes) and condiments (1,136 tonnes).
“This operation shows yet again that criminals will take advantage of any and every opportunity open to them to make a profit. The volume of the seizures confirms that food fraud affects all types of products, and all regions of the world,” said Jari Liukku, Head of Europol’s European Serious and Organised Crime Centre.
“It is hurting the consumers’ wallets: in the best of cases, food fraud is the deception of consumers, whereby they pay for something they do not get, but in the worst cases, food fraud can result in serious harm to the public’s health. It is the duty of Europol and law enforcement more generally to make sure that what consumers get in their plates is genuine and safe.”
INTERPOL’s Director of Organised and Emerging Crime, Paul Stanfield, said: “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.
“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. INTERPOL calls for further efforts and better coordination at the national, regional and international levels in order to stem this tide which endangers the health of consumers worldwide.”