Monday, 25 February 2020

Honey laundering and the illicit trade in fake food scams

AN organised criminal network is now thought to be involved in the horse meat scandal which has suppliers and retailers across Europe. The massive fraud was blown open by Ireland’s tiny Food Safety Authority which carried out random tests on beef products late last year. It exposed the massive profits made by criminal suppliers out to make a quick buck with fake food. Horse meat trades for up to €700 a ton while beef commands €3,000 leaving a healthy profit for shadowy importers and agents willing to cash in. 

Following the lead set by the FSAI French investigators immediately launched an investigation which led a supplier in the south of the country. It had imported 750 tons of horsemeat worth €525,000 from Romania which became relabelled as beef making it worth €2.25 million. The transaction was organised through a broker who used off-shore companies previously linked used to convicted arms dealer Viktor Bout, according to reports. The infamous Russian gun-runner was played by Nicholas cage in the movie Lord of war which was loosely based on his exploits.

The detection of horse meat in processed foods in Ireland started a series of test right across Europe. It’s not the first time Ireland has been caught up in a fake-food scandal. Last week fruit and veg importer Paul Begley had his original six year sentence for smuggling garlic reduced to two years. He had imported Chinese garlic into the country labelled as apples in a bid to evade tax. Because of heavy import tax on garlic form outside the European Union it became very profitable to re-label garlic imported from China. A single lorry load could net as much as €20,000 in extra profits for the smugglers. Two years before Begley was caught officials ran a European-wide Operation Wasabi in which 2,000 shipping containers were targeted in a bid to crack down on mislabelled fruit and veg.

But the biggest food scandal in Europe has been the supply of olive oil marketed as being extra virgin Italian. Italy uses and exports more olive than it produces so it imports from Spain, the EU’s biggest producer. Cheap Spanish oil is often found to have been relabelled and sold off as more expensive Italian olive. Europe’s worst food scandal happened in 1981 when up to 1,000 people died in Spain after cooking ill was tainted with industrial rapeseed oil, used to dilute regular cooking oil and then sold to the public. Other favourite scams included “honey laundering” in which honey from one country, usually China, is passed off as being local.

The packaging of farmed salmon as wild salmon has also been detected all over the world. Food safety is a huge issue in the developing world and in emerging countries such as Indian and China. The growth in middle class shoppers has suppliers cutting corners in  bid to cash in. In 2008, six children died and nearly 1000 were hospitalised in China after melamine was added to baby formula to apparently increase the protein content. Chinese manufacturers have also been caught adding hormones and tannery effluent to formulas. Last year New Zealand protested after several manufactures in China was passing off their baby-formula as being from that country.