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Fake wine, diluted honey and horse meat confiscated in European police crackdown

European police seized 1.7 million litres of fake wine, beer and spirits in 18 months
European police seized 1.7 million litres of fake wine, beer and spirits in 18 months Copyright Europol
Copyright Europol
By Hannah Somerville
Published on Updated
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Police in 26 EU member states seized 15.4 tonnes of sub-par food and 1.7 million litres of counterfeit booze from alleged criminal gangs.


More than 50,000kg of tampered-with honey and 1.7 million litres of counterfeit booze have been seized by European police in the last year and a half.

In a release on Wednesday detailing its latest crackdown on fake and sub-par food and beverages across the continent, Europol said it had disrupted some 42 criminal gangs between December 2020 to June 2021.

Forces from the Spanish Guardia Civil to the Swiss Police have helped to seize questionable wine, cheese, condiments and even pet food since the drive got underway.

In total, 15,451 tonnes of illicit products were confiscated, with a total value of about € 53.8 million.

Officers also carried out checks on 68,000 separate shipments of comestibles and searched 2,409 premises in the same period. Some 663 arrest warrants were issued for people thought to be involved in the trade.

Officers in 17 countries test batches of honey for fakes

Fake honey has been in circulation since the 1970s when high-fructose corn syrup first became available. This can be used to dilute down the genuine product together with sugarcane, meaning criminals can sell their product at a fraction of the price, harming genuine honey traders and European beekeepers.

Over 18 months, authorities in Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czechia, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Portugal, Serbia, Spain, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States carried out 495 checks on honey products for sugar and corn syrup. Seven per cent of it, weighing in at 51,000kg, was found to be non-compliant.

Fake wine, shellfish and horse meat targeted by European police

In the same time period, police seized 1.7 million litres of counterfeit wine, beer and other alcoholic beverages across Europe, supported by the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF).

Fourteen members of one Spain-based criminal network were arrested for using dyes to change the apparent quality of the drink they were peddling. The Guardia Civil seized 47,660 litres of whiskey and 9,550 litres of other alcohol being used in its manufacture.

In a separate case, the Italian Carabinieri arrested five people in their homes over the alleged manufacture of counterfeit wine, supported by the Swiss Police.

Spanish and Portuguese police impounded 12 ships and arrested eight people for selling bivalves – molluscs such as oysters, clams and scallops – found to be “unfit for human consumption”. In all, the dubious shellfish was worth €120 000 on the open market.

Officers in Belgium, Croatia, Denmark, France, Ireland, Italy and Spain also opened a series of new investigations into illegal horsemeat. The influx of so much bad-quality food into supply chains was said by Europol to be a possible knock-on effect of the pandemic.

The operation, named OPSON 2020, involved law enforcement from a total of 72 countries including 26 EU member states. It was also supported by Interpol, the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Health and Food Safety and the EU Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO).

Interpol Secretary-General Jürgen Stock said: “Removing such an enormous quantity of illegal and often dangerous products from the market is a concrete example of how international police cooperation is making the world a safer place.

“Food crime may not always seem like a top policing priority but operations like this demonstrate the massive profits these products generate, which can then fund other organized crime.”

_Correction: Europol initially said the police operation ran for 18 months. But they contacted us to correct this to six months. The article has been updated to reflect this. _

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