World

'Record global haul' of illicit food and drink

Olives seized in Italy which had been painted with copper sulphate solutions to enhance their colour Image copyright Europol
Image caption These olives were coated with copper sulphate to make them more alluring

More than 10,000 tonnes of illicit food and drink, including monkey meat, have been seized as part of the biggest-ever global crackdown on such goods.

The three-month operation involved police forces in 57 countries, European police agency Europol said.

The raids uncovered enough fake alcohol to fill 12,000 baths, including 10,000 litres of adulterated liquor in the UK.

Italian officers found 85 tonnes of olives painted with copper sulphate to enhance their green colour.

The Europol-Interpol initiative, now in its fifth year, yielded the largest-ever haul, running from November 2015 until February 2016.

Image copyright Europol
Image caption Monkey ribs were amongst goods travellers tried to import into Europe

Europol says the counterfeit goods market is a multi-billion dollar criminal industry, partly driven by rising food prices.

Checks at airports also identified travellers importing illicit products such as several kilograms of monkey seized by customs officers at Zaventem airport in Belgium.

Other notable elements of the operation included:

  • Nearly nine tonnes of sugar contaminated with fertiliser being seized in Sudan's capital, Khartoum
  • 70kg of chicken intestines preserved in formaldehyde, which is prohibited as a food additive, being found in Indonesia
  • Police in Greece discovering three illicit factories producing counterfeit alcohol
  • French officers destroying 11kg of locusts and 20kg of caterpillars seized at airports
  • 450kg of honey tested in Australia being found to have been blended or adulterated
  • Bolivian police finding a warehouse with thousands of cans of sardines and fake labels of a famous Peruvian brand ready to be stuck on
  • Hungarian officials discovering more than two tonnes of duck meat, not liver, destined to be sold as the delicacy foie gras
  • Police in Thailand uncovering an illicit network importing illegal meat from India and destroying more than 30 tonnes unfit for human consumption destined for supermarkets
  • South Korean police arresting a man suspected of smuggling diet supplements that were being sold online as a natural product but containing harmful ingredients.

The sale of the fake weight-loss products in this case was estimated to have generated some $170,000 (£118,000) over a 10-month period, the Europol statement said.

"Fake and dangerous food and drink threaten the health and safety of people around the world who are often unsuspectingly buying these potentially very dangerous goods," Interpol's Michael Ellis said.

The BBC's Anna Holligan in the Belgian capital, Brussels, says the record results do not necessarily mean the problem is getting worse.

This year there were more countries than ever were involved in the raids, known as "Operation Opson".

Chris Vansteenkiste from Europol said officers were also becoming more experienced at spotting counterfeit goods.

"The complexity and scale of this fraud means co-operation needs to happen across borders with a multi-agency approach," he said.

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