More details have emerged about national operations concentrating on sunflower oil and alcohol as part of Operation Opson.
Opson Europe, or Opson XII, was coordinated by Europol between December 2022 and April 2023. The focus was alcoholic beverages, olive oil, and origin claims such as Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) and Protected Geographical Indication (PGI).
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Europol led the operation targeting counterfeit olive oil.
Sunflower oil findings
Drought in producing countries and the war in Ukraine pushed up the price of sunflower oil and caused shortages. Hence, German authorities focused on the potential adulteration of this oil and its products. There are no specific parameters for detecting adulteration, so it was up to each country to decide what to look for and which analytical methods were used.
A total of 241 samples of sunflower oil and products containing sunflower oil were examined in 12 federal states. Sampling took place mainly in retail stores. Problems were found in only four oils. Two were suspected of being blended with other oils, and another couple had quality defects.
Sunflower oils were analyzed using Fourier transform near-infrared (FT-NIR) spectroscopy, and the results will support the development of a reference database for this oil.
Also, customs and police agencies in Europe seized about 6 million liters of counterfeit, sub-standard, or contraband alcoholic drinks, wine, and beer, said the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF).
Ville Itälä, OLAF director-general, said: “OLAF acted as a coordinator and link between the national authorities of 24 countries. Together, we tackled illicit alcoholic drinks. The issue goes beyond public revenue – we also protected European consumers’ and legitimate businesses’ health and safety.”
Spanish results and alcohol seizure
As part of activities in Spain, the Guardia Civil arrested 13 people and investigated another 87 for food fraud.
Officers carried out more than 2,000 inspections in distribution centers, warehouses, different types of transport, ports, and airports. They uncovered examples of document falsification and failure to comply with Spanish regulations.
In Albacete, the Nature Protection Service (SEPRONA) found fake documents and investigated three people and two companies. Officials also confiscated more than one million kilograms of sugar. The fraud involved grape juice sent mainly to South Africa.
Two people are being investigated in Seville for crimes against public health, document falsification, and fraud. They are accused of marketing meat products without traceability information and with manipulated expiration dates.
Officials in Zaragoza are looking into the sale of expired products. Meat, fish, and shellfish were found with falsified labels without the required authorizations. Work led to the arrest of eight people, with 48 others investigated, and the destruction of 25,000 kilograms of products.
A group that fraudulently marketed olive oil in Andalusia and Extremadura was taken down. Nine people were under suspicion for crimes against public health. A total of 67,000 liters of oil were seized. Officials also investigated several livestock farms and nine people in Alicante and Murcia for document fraud and other issues.
Finally, Swiss officials checked 24 fish products in Switzerland and Liechtenstein to see if the type declared matched what was sold. All samples were compliant.
(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)