A COORDINATED operation against international counterfeiting gangs has resulted in nearly 100 arrests and the seizure of a vast haul of fake food and drink.
More than 1,200 tonnes of fake or sub-standard food and nearly 430,000 litres of counterfeit drinks were seized, with 96 people arrested in an operation across 33 countries in the Americas, Asia and Europe, including the UK, earlier this year.
Operation Opson, jointly run by Interpol and Europol, began in 2011 to tackle the criminal production and sale of counterfeit ‘protected food name’ products, such as Gorgonzola or Champagne. It is now an international project that regularly seizes hundreds of tonnes of fake and sub-standard food.
The success of Operation Opson III, run between December 2013 and January 2014, was due to unprecedented cooperation between national and international law enforcement agencies and the food industry. This improved collaboration was praised today at the International IP Enforcement Summit London by Intellectual Property Minister Lord Younger.
Intellectual Property Minister, Lord Younger said: “Fake and sub-standard food poses a serious health risk to consumers and takes money away from legitimate producers and retailers.
“The UK will continue to share its expertise in the international fight against fake food and work with our partners to bring these unscrupulous criminal gangs to justice.
“Coordination was key to the success of Opson III, and the Intellectual Property Office played this vital role for the UK. Building on this, I will be hosting the 2014 Opson IV planning conference next month in London.”
The international fight against organised crime groups involved in the trade of fake and sub-standard food continues to yield strong results. The Operation recovered:
- more than 131,000 litres of oil and vinegar;
- more than 80,000 biscuits;
- more than 1,200 tonnes of fake or sub-standard food;
- nearly 430,000 litres of counterfeit drinks;
- 20 tonnes of spices and condiments;
- 186 tonnes of cereals;
- 45 tonnes of dairy products and 42 litres of honey.
Operation Opson III specifically targeted the organised crime networks behind the illicit trade in counterfeit and unregulated food and drink. It involved police, customs, national food agencies, regulatory bodies and partners from the private sector, with checks carried out at shops, markets, airports, seaports and private homes.
The UK’s Intellectual Property Office is the designated lead for coordinating the UK's response to Opson and works closely with the UK Food Standards Agency.
One example of UK success took place in Scotland, where a 40ft lorry load of fake vodka was seized. The load totalled 17,156 litres of counterfeit Glen’s vodka, involving duty and VAT of £269,300.65. A number of seizures across the UK were undertaken by trading standards enforcing consumer protection legislation.
The key aims of Opson are:
- the identification of the organised criminal networks behind the trafficking;
- development of practical cooperation between the involved law enforcement, food and drug agencies and private companies;
- and to raise awareness of the dangers posed by counterfeit and sub-standard foods.