Nearly 430,000 litres of counterfeit drinks and more than 1,200 tonnes of fake or substandard food have been seized as part of an EU investigation.
An Interpol-Europol operation across 33 countries in the Americas, Asia and Europe seized biscuits, chocolate, spices, cereals, dairy products and honey.
Operation Opson III led to the recovery of more than 131,000 litres of oil and vinegar, 80,000 biscuits and chocolate bars, 20 tonnes of spices and condiments, 186 tonnes of cereals, 45 tonnes of dairy products and 42 litres of honey.
96 arrested or detained
Europol said 96 people were arrested or detained with investigations continuing in many countries.
Fish and seafood was the largest category of foodstuffs seized. Some 685 tonnes were recovered for poor preservation, being incorrectly labelled and one seizure of 484,000kg of yellow fin tuna did not have the required traceability documents.
Interpol-Europol cooperation with Colombia allowed the seizure of 278 tonnes of food and 17,364 bottles of liquor with an estimated value of US$172, 809 64.
In Italy an organised crime network behind the manufacture and distribution of fake champagne was discovered, said Europol.
Material to prepare 60,000 bottles including fake labels were seized following raids on two sites, with three people arrested and 24 others reported to authorities.
The operation, through December 2013 and January 2014, and supported by the European Commission’s Directorate General for Health and Consumers.
Serious global problem
“Most people would be surprised at the everyday foods and drink which are being counterfeited, and the volume of seizures shows that this is a serious global problem,” said Michael Ellis, head of Interpol’s trafficking in illicit goods and counterfeiting unit.
“Interpol is committed to turning back this threat to public health and safety by organised criminal networks which are making millions in profits which can then be channelled into other illicit activity such as human and drug trafficking.”
In Bangkok, Royal Thai Police recovered more than 270 bottles of fake whiskey, forged stickers, labels and packaging from a warehouse.
Officials in the Philippines seized nearly 150,000 fake stock cubes, and French police identified and shut down an illegal abattoir near Paris.
Chris Vansteenkiste, project manager of Europol’s intellectual property crime team, said they see clear improvements in the fight against food fraud.
“It is important to keep the focus on this area of crime since the more information we collect, the more we realise that this illicit trade is managed and run by organised crime groups.”