Shops inundated with fake wines and vodkas which 'can cause blindness,' public warned

A growing counterfeit vodka trade supplements the fake wines being sold throughout the country, officials say, with as many as one in five off licenses affected

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The Independent Online

The public is being warned to look out for fake wines and vodkas being ushered into local off licenses by crooked salesmen.

As many as one in five off-licences in certain locations across the country are selling counterfeit goods, officials say, as the government now warns the public to beware.

Criminals plaster convincing labels to bottles of their low quality wine, before selling them to smaller, independent shopkeepers, the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) said.

Doncaster Council has even launched a ‘Fight the Fakes’ campaign to alert the public over the peddling of illegal alcohol and the bodily harms risked by ingesting the products.

“Illegal alcohol is on sale in Doncaster and can look very convincing. Whether cheap or normally priced it could be poison,” the Council states.

“Illegal alcohol can contain chemicals used in cleaning products, screen wash and antifreeze. Drinking illegal alcohol can cause nausea, dizziness, blindness and even coma. You don't know the strength of what you're drinking because it's not been produced to the standards of commercial alcohol.”

It then goes on to say that consumers should look out for a bumpy label with glue around the edges, an unfamiliar brand name, sediments within the product, or no manufacturer or importer name and address.

A spokesperson for the IPO told The Independent that 33,000 counterfeit bottles of vodka coming from Latvia have recently been seized by the UK Border Force.

The governmental body wouldn’t reveal which brand was affected, but said the potential loss of sales duty would have amounted to roughly £500,000.

The IPO is now working with Interpol and Europol to understand the scale of the fake vodka issue.

An IPO Spokesperson said: “We are fully aware that there are serious and organised criminals who put the health of consumers at risk with little regard for the consequences.

“Recent seizures have shown that industrial alcohol, anti-freeze and other noxious substances have been found in fake spirits.  

“Consumers should be aware that if a deal is too good to be true, it normally is.”

It also comes as 96 arrests have been made this year following an operation to target counterfeiting gangs.

Operation Opson, a coordinated mission between countries in the Americas, Europe and Asia, investigated the illegal sale of ‘protected food name’ products such as Gorgonzola or Champagne.

More than 1,200 tonnes of “fake or sub-standard food” and almost 430,000 litres of fake drinks were confiscated.

Jacob's Creek, a rip-off of whose wine was found to be stocked illegally in some stores prior to 2012, has said that an investigation found it did not contain harmful ingredients.

"Pernod Ricard UK is pleased that local trading standards investigations into counterfeit wine have been successful," said Chris Ellis, Commercial Director of Wines at Pernod Ricard UK.

There has been no recent discovery of counterfeit Jacob's Creek wines being sold in the UK.

"We urge our trade customers to continue to be vigilant and only ever purchase their wine, spirit and champagne stock through reputable wholesalers and distributors with clear traceability of supply," Mr Ellis added.

The firm said that customers should still be wary of dodgy labels.

"The counterfeit wine labelled as Jacob’s Creek can be identified by a spelling mistake on the lower bottom back label on the imitation packaging; underneath ‘South Eastern Australia,’ the ‘Wine of Australia’ text is missing an ‘A’ in Australia and instead it reads ‘Wine of Austlia’.

Customers who believe they've bought some fake goods are being asked to contact the nationwide Citizens Advice Consumer Service on 03454 04 05 06.