Europol Warns Fake Products on the Rise Across EU

Europol has warned producers and consumers of the continuing misuse and counterfeiting of geographical indication food products in Europe.

Jul. 31, 2017
By Isabel Putinja

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A report by Europol, the EU’s law enforce­ment agency, warns that the mis­use and coun­ter­feit­ing of geo­graph­i­cal indi­ca­tion (GI) prod­ucts con­tinue to be a major issue for EU food pro­duc­ers.

The 2017 Sit­u­a­tion Report on Coun­ter­feit­ing and Piracy in the Euro­pean Union, a joint report by Europol and the Euro­pean Union Intel­lec­tual Prop­erty Office (EUIPO), includes a short sec­tion on the mis­use of organic and cer­ti­fied ori­gin food labels. It noted that in 2015 there was growth in the coun­ter­feit­ing of such labels and that the prac­tice is expected to con­tinue.

It also revealed that the coun­tries whose pro­duc­ers are most affected by this crim­i­nal prac­tice include Ger­many, Spain, France, Italy and Greece. Most of the fraud­u­lent prod­ucts are pre­mium high-value ones like wine and spir­its, as well as cheese, meat, fruit, veg­etable prod­ucts (includ­ing olive oil) and cere­als.

Accord­ing to the report, there were 16,618 reported seizures of coun­ter­feit goods falsely labeled with EU geo­graph­i­cal indi­ca­tions in 2014, but these amounted to only a few the fol­low­ing year. Despite this, it warns that the risk of GII [geo­graph­i­cal indi­ca­tion infring­ing] prod­ucts remains sub­stan­tial” but Europol iden­ti­fies this as a mat­ter for domes­tic law enforce­ment because such prod­ucts tend to be pro­duced and sold in prox­im­ity to the regions where they claim to be man­u­fac­tured.

The prob­lem with coun­ter­feit goods for local pro­duc­ers is that they are priced out of their own mar­kets by these falsely labeled prod­ucts which are even some­times pro­duced abroad. This rep­re­sents a loss of rev­enue, while con­sumer con­fi­dence for these prod­ucts labeled as high qual­ity is under­mined.


EUIPO’s 2016 report, Infringe­ment of Pro­tected Geo­graph­i­cal Indi­ca­tions for Wine, Spir­its, Agri­cul­tural Prod­ucts and Food­stuffs in the Euro­pean Union” revealed that in 2014 nine per­cent of GI prod­ucts on the EU mar­ket were coun­ter­feit — rep­re­sent­ing a total value of €4.3 bil­lion.

France’s pro­duc­ers were iden­ti­fied as the biggest losers to coun­ter­feit­ing, hav­ing lost a total value of €1.6 bil­lion, fol­lowed by Italy (€682 mil­lion), Ger­many (€598 mil­lion), Spain (€266m) and Greece (€235m). At the same time, EU con­sumers lose €2.3 bil­lion annu­ally by pay­ing for what they believe to be a gen­uine prod­uct of high value.

Under the EU’s qual­ity schemes for agri­cul­tural prod­ucts, there are three geo­graph­i­cal indi­ca­tions. Prod­ucts labeled with Pro­tected Des­ig­na­tion of Ori­gin (PDO) are pro­duced, processed and pre­pared in a spe­cific geo­graph­i­cal area located within the EU using the ingre­di­ents and know-how of local pro­duc­ers.

Those granted Pro­tected Geo­graph­i­cal Indi­ca­tion (PGI) are prod­ucts linked to a cer­tain region where they are pro­duced, processed and pre­pared, but the ingre­di­ents do not have to be sourced from a spe­cific geo­graph­i­cal area.

The third cat­e­gory, tra­di­tional spe­cialty guar­an­teed (TSG), denotes prod­ucts with a tra­di­tional char­ac­ter” with regard to their ingre­di­ents or the way they’re made, but do not have a spe­cific link to a geo­graph­i­cal area.

There are cur­rently over 1,400 EU food prod­ucts with one of these three geo­graph­i­cal indi­ca­tions across 40 dif­fer­ent cat­e­gories of food­stuffs, with new appli­ca­tions made each month. France, Italy, Por­tu­gal, Spain and Greece have the high­est num­ber of reg­is­tered food prod­ucts.

Dur­ing a four-month food fraud oper­a­tion dubbed OPSON V under­taken by Europol and INTERPOL in 57 coun­tries from Novem­ber 2015 to Feb­ru­ary 2016, condi­ments were the largest type of coun­ter­feit or sub­stan­dard food seized out of a total of 11,131 tonnes of goods. This included 7,000 liters of mis­la­beled Ital­ian extra vir­gin olive oil and more than 526 tons of Ital­ian olives that had been col­ored with a cop­per sul­fate solu­tion to enhance their green color.

Less than a year later, oper­a­tion OPSON VI uncov­ered 9,800 tons of coun­ter­feit goods in 61 coun­tries. Olive oil sold as vir­gin” in Den­mark was found to con­tain blended or lam­pante oil.

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