Whisky. Wine. Vodka. Coffee. Olives. Sugar. Milk. Parmesan. Salmon. The list of counterfeit foods and drinks to be wary of is long — and growing.
A four-month food sting operation, called Operation Opson V and carried out by Interpol across 57 countries, has finally wrapped up. The sum total of the cache includes more than 10,000 tonnes of various fake food and a million litres of counterfeit drinks (enough to fill a swimming pool), making it the largest food sting ever conducted. Though the size of the haul is impressive, though, the really alarming part is just how many different types of foods and drinks were involved — and how many ways counterfeiters have found to forge them.
We previously covered Italy’s olive sting (which was part of Opson) where Italian police seized 85,000 tonnes of olives that were painted green in an effort to unload them. But over the course of Opson, investigators also found sugar cut with fertilisers, peanuts sold as pine nuts, illegal monkey meat and huge numbers of fake labels.
Drinks had as many problems as food, and Interpol pulled in a tens of thousands of litres each of fake whiskies, wines and other kinds of booze. It’s not just the familiar issues of mislabelling or watering down with plain tap water or some other cheaper liquor, either. DIY distilleries are also popping up to make nightmare versions of common spirits — and putting them into familiar bottles.
Last month, the UK branch of Opson raided a vodka distillery where counterfeiters were filling empty bottles of various branded vodkas with a fake version they’d made with window cleaner (filtered to remove its trademark blue colour). Not only was the alcohol content of the fake version off the charts, it also unsurprisingly left people dizzy, nauseous and with blood pressure problems.
All these different counterfeit methods point to one of the reasons we’re seeing so much more fake foods and drinks now: With so many different ways to fake food and drinks, it’s that much trickier to stamp it out. Not only is it a comparatively low-tech counterfeiting crime, it’s easy to move and difficult to trace. It’s also getting more and more lucrative, which means that, while this may have been the largest sting ever seen so far, it may not hold that title for long.
Top image: Joshua Rappeneker