Huge amounts of questionable food and drink seized in global operation

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Nearly 27,000 tons of food and 15 million liters of beverages were seized in operations focused on counterfeit food and beverages.

Operation Opson XI was carried out 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’s Directorate-General for Health and Food Safety (DG SANTE), the European Commission’s DG Agriculture and Rural Development (DG AGRI), the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO), national food authorities and the private sector.

More products seized but fewer countries involved
National agencies carried out checks in customs areas, in physical and online marketplaces, and along the food supply chain. The focus was on seafood fraud as well as liquor and wine.

In total, 26,800 tonnes of products were blocked from sale, 74,000 checks were carried out and 80 arrest warrants issued. More than 175 criminal cases have been opened and eight potentially criminal networks uncovered, Europol said.

Alcoholic beverages were the main items seized, followed by cereals and cereal products; fruits, vegetables and legumes; food supplements and additives; sugar and sweets; meat products; Seafood; dairy products and poultry.

Interpol results show seizures of 1,100 tonnes and 43 arrests. Poultry products were the main item confiscated while nearly 175,000 liters of alcohol and 70,000 liters of soft drinks were involved.

During Operation Opson in 2021, more than 15,000 tons of food and drink worth $60 million were seized worldwide. While 72 countries were involved in 2021, only 26 countries reported results to Europol in 2022, including the US but not the UK.

Case examples
An operation in the last Opson involved the Portuguese Economic and Food Security Authority (ASAE), which investigated 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 hygienic conditions and no veterinary checks. In addition, the meat could not be found, so it was deemed unfit for consumption.

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

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

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