European authorities have uncovered an operation allegedly making products out of decomposed apples, contaminated with mycotoxins and other toxic chemicals, unsuitable for human consumption and dangerous for public health.

Italian and Serbian authorities said they cracked the fraud ring that engaged in production and trade of allegedly organic food and beverages from rotten apples. In a joint action, coordinated by Eurojust, nine suspects of an alleged organized crime group were arrested.

Illegal assets worth €6 million ($6.7 million) and 1,411 tons of adulterated product with an estimated value of almost €5 million ($5.6 million) were seized. The properties of six companies believed to be involved were searched in Italy and Serbia.

The Public Prosecutor of Pisa, Italy, started the investigation into the international group, which officials say had branches in several countries.

Investigations revealed a trade of allegedly adulterated juice, jams and other canned food. Products were refined with water and sugars, and falsely labeled and promoted as organic products of European origin.

Eight arrest warrants were executed in Italy and one in Serbia. Those arrested are suspected of committing fraud and participation in a criminal organization.

Organic products and coffee
Meanwhile, more details have emerged about national actions as part of Operation Opson VIII, coordinated by Europol and Interpol. This year the annual operation targeted products such as meat, fish, eggs, oil and spices, labeled as organic at the request of the European Food Fraud Network.

The Guardia Civil in Spain seized 300 tons and 39,000 liters of counterfeit food and drinks. In Granada, three people were detained after they allegedly sold about 500 tons of vegetables such as zucchini, peppers and cucumbers as organic, while their suppliers were not certified as such.

In Madrid, two consignments of eggs had been marketed as organic but were of a lower category and did not meet specifications set by legislation, according to officials. A total of 45,360 eggs were seized and six people investigated.

Danish officials took 50 coffee and 50 juice samples with results showing, they said, that the producer had illegally added either water or sugar to juice in four cases.

Thirteen European countries joined forces to investigate coffee. In Germany, Portugal and Switzerland, lower-priced Robusta beans were detected in Arabica coffee in nine cases. The Robusta content ranged from 7 percent up to 100 percent.

Fishy business

Picture courtesy of Guardia Civil

Authorities in Spain have also dismantled a gang in the province of Malaga that allegedly transported young fish without sanitary controls.

The Guardia Civil arrested 16 people and another seven are being investigated in an operation called “Diximus,” which began more than one year ago.

Officials said the group fished between sunset and sunrise inside the Port of Malaga and monthly profits were estimated at up to €50,000 ($56,500).

The Spanish Agency for Food Safety and Nutrition (AESAN) was also involved because the gang allegedly used formaldehyde to conserve the fish it caught.

Guardia Civil warned that purchase and consumption of the immature fish could lead to a danger to health because it is caught, handled and transported in poor hygienic sanitary conditions, proper traceability is not proven. Also, the fish were adulterated with products such as formaldehyde, which is an unauthorized additive, according to official reports.

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