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Interpol’s fake food and drink list isn’t pretty

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If you’ve ever been paranoid about food fraud, you might not want to hear about Interpol’s latest efforts to stop fake food and drink from hitting the market.

Painted olives, sugar contaminated with fertilizer, and counterfeit wine are just a few items uncovered by an INTERPOL-Europol coordinated initiative called Operation Opson V.

Interpol released a statement today detailing the results of this initiative. More than 10,000 tonnes and one million litres of fake food and drink were seized across 57 countries. These efforts included police, customs, national food regulatory bodies, and private sector parties and involved checks carried out at shops and markets, ports, and industrial estates between November 2015 and February 2016.

Seized products included items that were purposely mislabeled, foods unfit for human consumption, and illegally imported foods.

Some highlights:

  • Officers in Greece found three factories counterfeiting alcohol and seized manufacturing equipment in addition to 7,400 bottles of fake alcohol.
  • Customs at a Belgian airport discovered monkey meat.
  • France seized and destroyed 11 kg of locusts and 20 kg of caterpillars
  • Police in Thailand uncovered an illicit network for transporting meat illegally imported from India.
  • Police in South Korea arrested a man smuggling dietary supplements containing harmful ingredients estimated to have generated over 100,000 USD.
  • In Australia, 450 kg of honey had been blended or adulterated and peanuts were being repackaged as pine nuts.

“Fake and dangerous food and drink threaten the health and safety of people around the world, who are often unsuspectingly buying these potentially dangerous goods” said Michael Ellis, head of INTERPOL’s Trafficking in Illicit Goods unit.

According to Ellis, Operation Opson V has resulted in more seizures than ever before. But these successes aren’t necessarily call for celebration. While a number of arrests have been made, Ellis says that criminal networks behind these activities still need to be identified.

“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. He adds that sharing knowledge is necessary, since fraud occurs across categories of the food industry and across regions of the world.

Read the full statement for more information on seized products.

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