As part of Europol’s OPSON VII operation, the environmental protection service of the Spanish civil guard, SEPRONA, found frozen tuna only suitable for canning had been illegally treated with substances that “enhance the colour”. This tuna had then been diverted to the market to be sold as fresh fish.
“This can represent a serious risk to public health, taking into account that the modification of the initial colour can mask spoilage allowing the development of biological amines (histamine) responsible for the so called scombroid syndrome in humans,” the authorities said in a statement.
A criminal investigation into the incident is underway.
To date, three companies and three fishing vessels have been linked to the fraudulent scheme.
SEPRONA said it is investigating the involvement of four people, who could face possible penalties of up to four years in prison for endangering public health as well as administrative sanctions.
“Spain and France are also conducting judicial inquiries into tuna destined for canning and sold as fresh and on the illegal use of additives, the results of which cannot be disclosed at this moment,” Europol added.
Coordinated effort to fight fraud
Justice, police, customs and food experts have been mobilised to investigate and to ensure the success of OPSON VII, Europol said. The investigation lasted four months and involved 67 countries.
OPSON VII has looked at a variety of criminal and fraudulent activities in the food sector, from illegally treated tuna to rotten meat and fake baby milk powder. “These are just a small sampling of the products seized as part of the latest OPSON investigation into the presence of counterfeit and substandard food and beverage products on the market in Europe and beyond,” Europol noted.
In total, more than 51 tons of tuna have been seized as part of the overall operation. OPSON VII resulted in the total seizure of more than 3,620 tonnes and 9.7 million litres of either counterfeit or substandard food and beverages as a results of more than 41,000 checks carried out at shops, markets, airports, seaports and industrial estates. In total some 749 people were arrested or detained with investigations continuing in many countries.
"The results of OPSON demonstrate what can be achieved to protect consumers worldwide when law enforcement agencies join their efforts and perform coordinated actions," said Jari Liukku, Head of Europol’s European Serious and Organised Crime Centre. "It is a threat which requires such cooperation across borders, taking into account the increased integration and globalisation of supply chains. All countries face this threat and it is the duty of law enforcement agencies to make sure what consumers get in their plate is genuine and safe."
In this latest action investigating tuna, 11 countries were involved: Spain, Italy, France, Germany, Portugal, The Netherlands, the UK, Hungary, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.
“In some countries investigations took place on fishing vessels and in processing plants when, in other participating countries, extensive sampling plans took place at distribution and retail levels,” Europol revealed.