January 21, 2019
Wooden bowl full of olives.

Food Fraud: A Record Bust

by Berkeley Wellness  

Trafficking in fake and substandard foods is big business, and efforts to stop this global phenomenon are ongoing. In 2016, two of the world’s biggest law enforcement agencies, Interpol and Europol, made their biggest bust yet. Called Operation Opson V (opson meaning “food” in ancient Greek), it was carried out by police and customs officers, national food and drug agencies, and private companies across 57 countries.

Here’s just a tiny sampling of the 11,000 tons and 1 million liters of fake foods and drinks that were confiscated at stores, airports, seaports, and other locations from November 2015 to February 2016:

  • In the UK, about 10,000 liters of fake or adulterated wine, whiskey, and vodka. In Greece, more than 7,400 bottles of fake alcohol and counterfeit labels. The seized alcohol was enough to fill 12,000 bathtubs.
  • In Australia, nearly 1,000 pounds of adulterated or blended honey, plus peanuts repackaged as more expensive pine nuts (a major risk for people with allergies).
  • In a warehouse in Bolivia, thousands of cans of sardines with fake labels of a famous Peruvian brand ready to be put on them.
  • In Italy, more than 85 tons of olives that had been dipped in copper sulphate solution to boost color.
  • In Hungary, more than 2 tons of duck meat being passed off as duck liver (that is, pricey foie gras).
  • In Thailand, more than 30 tons of illegal beef and buffalo meat that was not fit for human consumption but was on its way to supermarkets.

The record haul does not mean the problem of fake and illicit food has necessarily worsened. Rather, more countries were involved in the latest sting, plus the investigators have gotten better at recognizing counterfeit products. Still, continuing effort is needed “to identify the criminal networks behind this activity whose only concern is making a profit, no matter what the cost to the public,” the head of Interpol’s Trafficking in Illicit Goods unit said in a press release.

Also see Beware of Food Fraud.