Wine fraud

Fake food items worth an estimated €230m (£195m) have been seized by investigators as part of a major Europol-Interpol operation across 61 countries.

Key examples from the EU uncovered during Operation Opson VI included hazelnut products in Germany that were found to be adulterated with undeclared peanuts, cashews and almonds and thus posed a health risk to allergy sufferers; and more than 300,000 cans of fish seized in Portugal that had been produced in unlicensed and unhygienic condition, including the “repacking almost expired sardines in tomato sauce”. The fish products had been destined for sale in other EU countries.

Fake tinned fish uncovered as part of Operation Opson VI

In Portugal, investigators uncovered almost expired sardines repacked in tomato sauce

In Italy, meanwhile, investigators dismantled an organised crime group involved in producing and distributing fake wine, which was then sold as PGI protected wine in Italy and abroad. “Pure alcohol was added to low-quality wine used as raw material to increase the volume of alcohol,” the investigators’ report said. “Labels, including fake official labels of protected geographical indications were placed on the bottles at the final stage of production.”

Also in Italy, officials dismantled an operation involved in the production of fake mineral water, with more than 266,000 litres seized. “Bottles imitated a registered trademark of mineral water,” the report said. “Investigations revealed that the water originated from the same source. However, no market authorisation had been granted and bottling and was done without regards to health and safety regulations.”

In Denmark, investigators tested olive oil on sale in major supermarkets and found “numerous samples” were not virgin olive oil, as stated, but blended or lampante oil. And in Ireland, officials found a large quantity of “unrefrigerated, unpacked, unlabelled meat” as well as alcohol and tobacco products in a van, with subsequent raids uncovering a total of 1,096 illegitimate food items that were seized.

“This operation has once again shown that criminals will fake any type of food and drink with no thought to the human cost as long as they make a profit,” said Francoise Dorcier, coordinator of Interpol’s illicit goods and global health programme. “Whilst thousands of counterfeit goods have been taken out of circulation, we continue to encourage the public to remain vigilant about the products they buy.”

Five-year prison sentence for halal fraudsters

The latest Operation Opson report comes as two men who fraudulently passed off turkey thigh pieces as halal lamb during 2013 and 2014 were this week sentenced to five years in prison in the UK. The meat had been supplied to shops and restaurants throughout the East Midlands and beyond.

The fraud was uncovered by Leicester City Council’s food safety team as part of testing efforts implemented in the wake of the horsemeat scandal.