Fake food: Criminal gangs move from drugs to a new 'underground economy'

Industrial dye in children's sweets and tens of thousands of fake vodka are among the products to have been seized

Fake food pedalled by organised criminal gangs that could be harming children and people who suffer from allergies is being sold across Europe, it has been reported.

It is believed drug gangs have moved to counterfeiting food as the penalties are far lower than those for narcotic-related crime.

Products seized in the UK recently include goat’s milk diluted with cow’s milk, and cheaper peanut powder used instead of almond flour, which could seriously harm people with allergies.

Other illegal products include children’s sweets containing the carcinogenic industrial red dye Rhodamine B, 17,156 litres of fake vodka found in a 40ft lorry, and 22 tons of long-grain rice to be sold as high-quality basmati.

The findings follow the horse meat scandal last year,  when horse DNA was found in meat labelled as beef, and was partly blamed on a difficult-to-trace chain of factories across Europe.

Huw Watkins, head of the intelligence hub at the Government’s Intellectual Property Office and who formerly worked to fight human trafficking, told The Sunday Times: “Food fraud — in a similar way to tackling human trafficking — requires us to collaborate across borders, so we are working with the Food Standards Agency (FSA), Interpol and Europol.

“The overriding concern is public safety.”

He added: “There are cases with ‘best-quality Italian olive oil’ where the olives come from Spain or other countries and, because the olives have fermented, they have been washed through with deodorant. In the UK the biggest foodstuff problem is counterfeit alcohol.”

This includes the case of a leading British supermarket that was found to be unknowingly stocking fake wine, which was later removed from sale.

A man holds grains of rice, unrelated to the counterfeit basmati. A man holds grains of rice, unrelated to the counterfeit basmati.
Rob Wainwright, the director of Europol, the pan-European police intelligence organisation, has called fake food “a major new part of the underground economy”.

The disclosure comes as Britain’s Food and Environment Agency plans to launch the EU’s Food Integrity project at a conference in York, which is to commission €3m (£2.5m) of research into food fraud. 

Operation Opson, a joint Interpol/Europol investigation, revealed it had already found more than 1,200 tons of counterfeit food and nearly 430,000 litres of drinks.

When an illegal abattoir in Paris was shut down recently, fake olive oil, vinegar, biscuits, chocolate bars and honey were confiscated. Meanwhile, in the Philippines nearly 150,000 fake stock cubes were seized.

Mike Ellis, head of Interpol’s trafficking in illicit goods unit, told The Sunday Times that gangs are using increasingly sophisticated machinery.

“In Qatar we found a re-labelling machine, which was designed with the illegal purpose of changing expiry dates on drinks labels. Then, we found one exactly the same in Africa.”

The news follows a report in early February showing that shoppers are at risk of buying “fake food” including ham on pizza that is “meat emulsion” or poultry, prawns that are 50 per cent water, and fruit juice containing additives not permitted in the EU.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
Steve Shaw shows Kate how to get wet behind the ears and how to align her neck
healthSteven Shaw - the 'Buddha of Breaststroke' - applies Alexander Technique to the watery sport
Sport
footballShirt then goes on sale on Gumtree
Voices
Terry Sue-Patt as Benny in the BBC children’s soap ‘Grange Hill’
voicesGrace Dent on Grange Hill and Terry Sue-Patt
Arts and Entertainment
The sight of a bucking bronco in the shape of a pink penis was too much for Hollywood actor and gay rights supporter Martin Sheen, prompting him to boycott a scene in the TV series Grace and Frankie
tv
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine