Business

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.