Some 320t of dodgy dairy products were among the products seized in a coordinated operation across the EU between Europol, the EU’s law enforcement agency, and Interpol, the international equivalent.
Operation OPSON 2020 involved law enforcement authorities in 83 countries and ran from December 2019 to June 2020 targeting trafficking of counterfeit and substandard food and beverages.
In total, 12,000t of illegal and potentially harmful product worth €28m were seized. Some 5,000t of seized product were derived from animals, followed by alcohol (2,000t), cereals and teas.
Some 320t of rotten milk and cheese, which posed a threat to human health, were seized in Bulgaria, Italy, France, Greece, Portugal, and Switzerland. A further 210t of cheese, which did not meet the conditions to be labelled with a protected geographic indication (PGI), were also seized.
One investigation in Bulgaria into an unregistered warehouse revealed seven samples of cheese testing positive for starch and E coli.
The authorities seized 3.6t of unsafe dairy products, which were supposed to be processed into melted cheese.
There was specific action taken on horse passports and horsemeat, described as a dangerous criminal trend.
Europol launched a dedicated project to support national authorities in combating the sale of illegal horsemeat.
Counterfeit and substandard food is not only deceitful to consumers but can also pose a significant threat to their health
It was led by Belgium, Ireland and the Netherlands and supported by the European Commission for Health.
The documents of more than 157,000 horses from eight countries and 117t of horsemeat were checked.
Live animals and more than 17t of horse meat were seized from several slaughterhouses in Belgium, Ireland, Italy, Spain and the Netherlands.
Inspections in slaughterhouses showed 20% of foreign passports used for these horses showed signs of forgery and competition horses with forged documents were also sent to slaughterhouses.
Catherine De Bolle, Europol’s executive director, said: “In times of crises, criminals always look for new ways to abuse consumers and increase their illegal profit to the harm of public safety. "Counterfeit and substandard food is not only deceitful to consumers but can also pose a significant threat to their health.”