Included in a recent massive international haul of potentially dangerous fake food and drink is 14 000 litres of soft drink containing a high level of an active ingredient in erectile dysfunction medication discovered by security personnel in Zimbabwe, according to Interpol.
The international police organisation seized more than $117 million worth of fake food and drink in the latest edition of its Operation Opson, which also saw 672 people arrested across the globe.
The operation was the eighth of its kind and ran from December last year to April.
More than 18 million items were recovered in shops, markets and during transport checks during Operation Opson VIII, co-ordinated by Interpol and Europol. Police, customs, national food regulatory authorities and private sector partners in 78 countries took part.
The items confiscated totalled 16 000 tons and 33 million litres of food and drink with the potential to harm and even kill.
Tampered expiry dates on cheese and chicken, controlled medicines added to drink products and meat stored in unsanitary conditions were some offences discovered during the operation.
As with previous Opson operations, counterfeit alcohol remained a major concern globally. Police in Russia shut down an illicit vodka production site, seizing 4 200 litres of counterfeit alcohol and an additional 6 000 empty bottles. In South Africa three people were arrested after alcohol meant for export was repackaged and sold nationally to avoid taxes.
Also in Africa, checks done as part of Opson saw Kenyan authorities confiscate more than $13 million in counterfeit notes and arrest four in connection with the offence.
“Counterfeit and substandard food and beverages can be found on shelves in shops around the world and their increasing sale online exacerbates the threat food crime poses to the public,” said Interpol Director of Organised and Emerging Crime, Paul Stanfield.
“Operation Opson VIII saw substantial amounts of counterfeit food and drink taken out of circulation, but there is much more to be done. Interpol calls for further efforts and better co-ordination at national, regional and international levels to stem this tide which endangers the health of consumers worldwide,” Stanfield said.
For the first time, Opson this year looked at organic food products and the growing trend of products not meeting national or regional organic standards and falsely claiming to be organic origin to be sold at higher prices.
“This shows yet again criminals will take advantage of any and every opportunity to make a profit. The volume of seizures confirms food fraud affects all types of products and all regions of the world”, said Jari Liukku, Head of Europol’s European Serious and Organised Crime Centre.
“It hurts consumers’ wallets. In the best of cases, food fraud is deception of consumers, who pay for something they do not get. In the worst cases food fraud can result in serious harm to the public’s health.”
Expired or fake food has other consequences. In August last year violence broke out in Soweto, south-west of Johannesburg, after locals accused spaza shop owners of selling expired food. The violence sparked xenophobic attacks culminating in the looting of foreign-owned shops and unrest that lead to deaths.