The ninth operation of its kind, it ran from December 2019 to June 2020 and involved law enforcement authorities from 83 countries and was also supported by the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF), the European Commission, the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO), national food regulatory authorities and private sector partners.
Counterfeit and substandard food and beverages can be found on the shelves in shops around the world. The increasing online sale of potentially dangerous products poses a significant threat to public health, the authorities said.
Operation OPSON was created to combat organized crime involved in this area. This year’s operational activities have found a new disturbing trend to address: the infiltration of low-quality products into the supply chain, a development possibly linked to the COVID-19 pandemic.
This year’s operation OPSON led to the dismantling of 19 organized crime groups involved in food fraud and the arrests of 406 suspects. More than 26,000 checks were performed. As a result, about 12,000 tonnes of illegal and potentially harmful products worth about €28m ($32.4m) were seized.
With more than 5,000 tonnes seized, animal food was the most seized product, followed by alcoholic beverages (more than 2,000 tonnes), cereals, grains and derived products, coffee and tea and condiments.
The focus on dairy products involved authorities in Bulgaria, Italy, France, Greece, Portugal and Switzerland.
The project resulted in the seizures of 320 tonnes of smuggled or substandard dairy products. National authorities seized rotten milk and cheese, which posed a threat to consumer health. Additionally, 210 tonnes of cheese were seized, which did not meet the conditions to be labelled with a protected geographic denomination.
A Bulgarian investigation into an unregistered warehouse revealed seven samples of cheese tested positive for starch and E. coli. The authorities seized 3.6 tonnes of unsafe dairy products, which were supposed to be processed into melted cheese.
Jürgen Stock, INTERPOL secretary general, said, “As countries around the world continue their efforts to contain COVID-19, the criminal networks distributing these potentially dangerous products show only their determination to make a profit. The scale and variety of food and drink seized during this operation serves as a reminder for members of the public to be vigilant about what they buy, and the need for continued vigilance and action by law enforcement.”