Almost 27,000 tons of food and 15 million liters of beverages have been seized in operations focused on counterfeit food and drink.

Operation Opson XI was led in Europe by Europol and outside the EU by Interpol between December 2021 and May 2022.

It also involved the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF), the European Commission Directorate-General for Health and Food Safety (DG SANTE), EU Commission DG for Agriculture and Rural Development (DG AGRI), European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO), national food authorities and the private sector.

More products seized but fewer countries involved
National agencies conducted checks in customs areas, physical and online market places, and across the food supply chain. The focus was on seafood fraud plus alcohol and wine. 

Overall, 26,800 tons of products were blocked from sale, 74,000 checks were undertaken and 80 arrest warrants issued. More than 175 criminal cases were opened and eight potentially criminal networks uncovered, said Europol.

Alcoholic beverages were the top items seized, followed by cereal and grain products; fruit, vegetables and legumes; food supplements and additives; sugar and sweets; meat products; seafood; dairy, and poultry.

Interpol results show seizures of 1,100 tons and 43 arrests. Poultry products were the main confiscated item while almost 175,000 liters of alcohol and 70,000 liters of non-alcoholic drinks were involved.

In Operation Opson in 2021, more than 15,000 tons of food and drink worth $60 million was seized globally. While 72 countries were involved in 2021, only 26 countries reported results to Europol in 2022, this included the United States.  

Example cases
One operation in the latest Opson involved the Portuguese Economic and Food Safety Authority (ASAE), which looked into a clandestine slaughterhouse.

Officers raided two homes suspected of being used for the illegal slaughter and roasting of pigs. This resulted in the seizure of 60 piglet carcasses. They dismantled the sites, which had no license, poor hygiene conditions and no veterinary control. Plus, meat could not be traced so it was judged unfit for consumption.

Other operations seized horse meat unfit for consumption, old meat that was going to be reintroduced into the supply chain and processed food with expired dates.  

In another case, the Spanish Guardia Civil dismantled a network selling modified gardenia as the expensive saffron spice. Suspects imported the extract of gardenia from Asia. National authorities investigated three companies, arrested 11 people and seized 10,000-kilograms of the gardenia extract, which, if sold as saffron, would have been worth about €750,000 ($775,000).

OLAF led the operation targeting illicit alcoholic beverages, wine and beer.

The agency coordinated the activities in Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Portugal, Romania, Spain, and Norway.

National customs and police authorities also seized counterfeit bottles, empty counterfeit bag in box packaging and boxes, a benchtop sparkling wine foil applicator machine, a compressor and a large quantity of counterfeit labels.

Ville Itälä, OLAF Director-General, said: “Food fraud is a problem for the health and safety of consumers, for legitimate businesses, and for public revenue. The best way to fight fraudsters and counterfeiters is through cooperation between OLAF, Europol and national customs and police authorities.”

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