Live animals and more than 17 tonnes of horsemeat have been seized from several slaughterhouses in Ireland, Belgium, Italy, Spain, and the Netherlands as part of an operation conducted by Europol and INTERPOL.
OPRSON 2020, the ninth operation of its kind, targeted trafficking of counterfeit and substandard food and beverages and ran from December 2019 to June 2020.
It led to the dismantling of 19 organised crime groups involved in food fraud and the arrests of 406 suspects with more than 26,000 checks performed.
“As a response to this dangerous criminal trend, Europol launched a dedicated project to support national authorities in combating the sale of illegal horse meat, led by Belgium, Ireland and the Netherlands and supported by DG SANTE.”
The operational activities focused on checks of documents of more than 157 000 horses from eight countries and about 117 tonnes of horse meat.
Inspections of slaughterhouses in several countries showed that about 20% of the foreign passports used for these horses showed signs of forgery. Competition horses with forged documents were also sent to slaughterhouses.
Animal food most seized product
As a result, about 12, 000 tonnes of illegal and “potentially harmful” products worth about €28 million 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.
Large amounts of saffron were seized: 90kg in Spain and 7kg in Belgium with an estimated value of more than €306 000. The US authorities seized 147kg of raw apricot kernel seeds sold as a cure for cancer.
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.”
A total of 149 tonnes of cooking oil was seized as a result of this targeted action led by Greece. About 88 tonnes from the seizures were olive oil and were reported by Albania, Croatia, France, Greece, Italy, Jordan, Lithuania, Portugal and Spain.
In Italy, during a check on a company producing olive oil, inspectors found a surplus of product, which was not registered in the official documents of the company, thus more than 66 tonnes of olive oil were seized.
Law enforcement authorities, coordinated by OLAF, seized 1.2 million litres of alcoholic beverages, with the largest quantity being wine. Norwegian authorities seized more than 5,000 litres of vodka smuggled in a trailer.
“Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, which partially affected operation OPSON and its overall results, law enforcement authorities from participating countries did their utmost to implement the planned operational activities.”
Image credit: Europol / Website