Late last year, Interpol-Europol agents seized hundreds of tons of counterfeit, fake and substandard food and beverages, including champagne, cheese, olive oil and tea, across 10 countries in Europe.


During Operation Opson (opson translates to “food” in ancient Greek), authorities confiscated more than 13,000 bottles of substandard olive oil, 30 tons of fake tomato sauce, about 77,000 kg. of counterfeit cheese, more than 12,000 bottles of substandard wine, five tons of substandard fish and seafood, nearly 30,000 counterfeit candy bars and investigated fake/substandard caviar being sold via the Internet.  

The one-week effort (from November 28 to December 4) involved police, customs agents, regulatory and food-industry officials in airports, seaports, shops and flea markets in Bulgaria, Denmark, France, Hungary, Italy, The Netherlands, Romania, Spain, Turkey and the United Kingdom.

At the time, Simone Di Meo, Criminal Intelligence Officer with Interpol’s Intellectual Property Rights program and coordinator for Operation Opson, said in a news release that counterfeit food is a threat most people are not even aware of, so “one of the main goals of this operation was to protect the public from potentially dangerous fake and substandard food and drinks.”

This week in Brussels, food control authorities, police forces, judicial officials and other stakeholders from across the European Union met again to develop strategies for combating food-related crime — to understand the nature of food counterfeit schemes, to improve detection of these illegal practices and to raise public awareness of the problem to prompt vigilance when shopping.

The conference, held Monday and Tuesday, was part of the EU’s Better Training for Safer Food program.

Consumers buying counterfeit goods, either knowingly or unknowingly according to European authorities, put their health at risk because fraudulent foods and beverages are not subject to any manufacturing quality controls and are often transported or stored without regard to safe food-handling standards. 

The problem of counterfeit and substandard products is also a concern in the United States, most visible with fake pharmaceuticals, but also with food items. Cheaper types of fish have been passed off as more expensive, such as tilapia being marketed as red snapper or farm-raised salmon being labeled as wild-caught.

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, olive oil is one of the most frequently counterfeited food products — it is sometimes sold as “extra virgin” when it is actually mostly soybean oil.  Honey, maple syrup and vanilla counterfeits have also plagued the U.S. market.


Photo from Interpol-Europol