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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