Protecting the UK from ‘fake food’

Posted on 26 Sep 2013 by Tim Brown

Fake food poses a huge threat to the health of consumers and can prove as profitable for organised crime as it can damage the UK economy.

As part of the UK’s response the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) hosted an international conference last week (20 September) to set out the UK’s plans to support the Interpol/Europol Operation Opson, set up in 2011 to tackle the problem of ‘fake food’.

The event will brought together more than thirty countries and key enforcement agencies to focus on how to tackle the growing issue of fake and substandard food and drink which covers both ‘fake’ branding of products as well foodstuffs not subject to proper public health controls.

The conference focused on lessons learned over the last year. A co-ordinated period of action in 2012, targeting illicit food and drink, netted nearly 250 tonnes of illegal and hazardous food from everyday products such as coffee and olive oil to luxury goods like truffles and caviar. This operation also made more around 100 arrests as it targeted the organised crime networks behind this illegal trade.

The conference featured a speaker from the Czech Republic police force who talked about the case of methanol poisoning last year, which claimed more than 40 lives in the Czech Republic and Poland and led to a country-wide ban on the sale of alcohol above 20 per cent. The UK’s Food Standard Agency will speak about the horsemeat scandal and the impact this had on enforcement action and strengthening the safeguards in Britain.

Intellectual Property Minister, Lord Younger, said: “Bringing together key enforcement and intelligence agencies from Europe and further afield, is a key part in tackling the growing issue of fake food.

“It is not just about cracking down on crime that affects the livelihoods of legitimate businesses, but fake food and drink can pose a real threat to public health. Joined up intelligence and enforcement action, like this conference and the OPSON operations, are vital to protect both consumers and businesses.”

Operation Opson started in 2011 with the involvement of 10 countries, which nearly trebled to 29 countries in 2012. Its enforcement activities, co-ordinated by Interpol and Europol, seized illicit good worth millions of euros over the past two years.