Vast International Operation Seizes Counterfeit Food & Beverages

Published: 23 July 2020

counterfeit foodLive animals and more than 17 tonnes of horse meat were seized from several slaughterhouses in Belgium, Ireland, Italy, Spain and the Netherlands. (Photo: Europol)

By Sandrine Gagné-Acoulon

Law enforcement from 83 countries dismantled 19 organised crime groups and arrested 406 suspects during a six-month-long operation that targeted trafficking of counterfeit and substandard food and beverages, Europol said on Wednesday. 

“This year’s operational activities have found a new disturbing trend to address: the infiltration of low-quality products into the supply chain, a development possibly linked to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Europol said. 

Authorities conducted more than 26,000 checks and seized about 12,000 tons of illegal and potentially harmful products, worth about 28 million euros (US$32.4 million), a statement said.

This included 5,000 tons of counterfeit animal food and large quantities of alcoholic beverages, cereals, grains and derived products, coffee, tea and condiments. Police seized also 90 kilograms of saffron in Spain and seven kilograms in Belgium, with an estimated value of more than 306,000 euro ($355,000). 

U.S. authorities also seized 147 kilograms of raw apricot kernel seeds that were sold as a cure for cancer. 

The agency noticed an increase in the sale of such potentially dangerous products online. 

“In times of crisis, criminals always look for new ways to abuse consumers and increase their illegal profit ... Counterfeit and substandard food is not only deceitful to consumers but can also pose a significant threat to their health,” explained Europol Director Catherine De Bolle. 

Key products the authorities focused on were dairy, olive oil, horse meat and alcohol. Counterfeits with potential threat to human health such as rotten milk and cheese were removed from the market. 

Law enforcement coordinated by the European Anti-Fraud Office seized 1.2 million liters of alcoholic beverages, most of it being wine. According to Europol, 5,000 litres of vodka were seized in Norway while being smuggled in a trailer.