Seizures of conterfeit food products and medicines entering the EU increased by 77 per cent from 2002 to 2003, according to the European Commission. Foodstuffs seized included sweets, waffles, chewing gum and even apples.
Overall, customs officials seized almost 100 million articles in 2003 compared with 85 million in 2002, worth an estimated value of €1 billion.
This increase underlines a trend in recent years from smuggling luxury goods to smuggling more everyday products.
"Counterfeiting and piracy increasingly involve children's toys, medicines and food products and this constitutes a real danger to consumers," said EU taxation and customs commissioner László Kovács.
"The customs authorities of the Member States are already working hard to combat this problem but we must take many more very concrete actions if we are to protect ourselves and the world from this threat to our safety and to our economy."
Food and packaging firms are beginning to take action in order to stem this trend. There are now a number of products on the market designed to stop counterfeiting and protect brand-name products; Japan-based engineering firm Teikoku Piston Ring for example has developed a hologram identification label that it brings anti-counterfeiting packaging to new levels.
The label takes the world's first Lippman Hologram heat transfer foil - developed by Dai Nippon Printing (DNP) in July 2003 - and stripe-transfers it to the surface of an adhesive label. Unlike the embossed holograms now widely used in anti-counterfeiting applications, and in which the image can be altered in only one direction, the Lippman Hologram features images which change according to alterations in the frame of reference in both a vertical and a horizontal manner, making it possible to record and replicate images with richer three-dimensional and depth perspective qualities.
In addition, scientists from the University of Seville, Spain, have developed a method of finger-printing champagne, cava, and other wines to prevent cheaper products being passed off as the more expensive varieties. A recent article in New Scientist magazine said that tests were 100 per cent accurate in determining which of 35 samples were cava and which were champagne.
US-based William Frick & Company, a leading supplier of custom printed labels, has launched a complete line of security labels for packaging, manufacturing and distribution companies. AuthentiCal Rights Protection Labelling products are designed to help companies reduce threats within their supply chain by incorporating overt and/or covert authentication technologies into their products or packaging.
The company says that single or multi-level security technologies used in AuthentiCal labels are so discreet that they blend into the product or packaging design, making duplication difficult.
The 2003 statistics from the EU suggests that there is a growing market for such products. There was an overall 9 per cent increase in 2003 in the number of counterfeit and pirated goods seized by customs at the external borders of the EU - 100 million compared to 85 million in 2002. The number of cases involved in these seizures increased by almost 41 per cent.
Some 70 per cent of the amount of counterfeit and pirated goods seized by customs authorities in 2003 is thought to have originated in Asia.
While the compilation of statistics for 2004 has not yet been completed, the results so far suggest that the customs authorities of the new Member States have been very active since their accession on 1 May 2004. Hungary seized approximately 300,000 face and body lotions in the first quarter, Malta seized 10,000 car parts, Lithuania intercepted 400,000 batteries, and Estonian customs intercepted 11 shipping vessels fully of counterfeit clothes.