Interpol-Europol pact seize illegal ‘fat burner’ pills as part of global fraud crackdown

By Will Chu

- Last updated on GMT

A global crack down on food fraud coordinated by Europol and Interpol across 10 EU Member States has bagged 23 seizures of 2,4-Dinitrophenol (DNP), a toxic chemical, mainly sold online as a fat burner.

The seizures are equivalent to over 50 000 capsules of DNP as the authorities also reveal over 75 online sales offerings of the chemical have been removed.

“Seizures of DNP were made in the framework of this targeted action, through intelligence-led interventions at residential addresses, test purchases and through the detection of parcels by custom authorities,”​ Europol said in a statement.

"It is hurting the consumers’ wallets: in the best of cases, food fraud is the deception of consumers, whereby they pay for something they do not get, but in the worst cases, food fraud can result in serious harm to the public’s health,”​ added Jari Liukku, Head of Europol’s European Serious and Organised Crime Centre.

DNP has made headlines throughout Europe as authorities deal with a number of deaths attributed to the consumption of this industrial chemical.

In February, Enhanced Athlete Europe, a UK company was found guilty of placing illegal "fat-burner"​ tablets containing DNP on to the market and ordered to pay a €114,000 (£100,000) fine, plus costs.

The increasing availability of DNP on the Dutch grey market prompted the Dutch Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority (NVWA) to issue a warning against the substance.

In 2017, Dutch customs​ seized seven packages intended for seven different customers.

The packages contained a total of 4 kilograms of DNP powder plus several hundred capsules containing the substance. The packages also contained other pills and anabolic steroids.

Europol-Interpol operation

In wide-ranging busts made between December 2018 and April 2019, 672 individuals were arrested so far, with investigations ongoing in many countries as part of a five-month OPSON VIII operation.

Coordinated by Europol’s Intellectual Property Crime Coordination Centre and Interpol, police, customs, national food regulatory authorities and private sector partners across 78 countries.

The operation identified illicit alcohol as the most seized item, totalling over 33 000 metric tonnes, followed by cereals and grains (approx. 3628 metric tonnes) and condiments (approx. 1136 metric tonnes).

This included investigations In Italy, in which the NAS Carabinieri seized over 150 000 litres of tampered poor quality sunflower oil made to look like extra virgin oil by adding chlorophyll and beta-carotene to the finished product

The authorities also looked into organic food products, clamping down on the growing trend of products falsely claiming to be organic in order to be sold at higher prices.

A targeted action was also run across 13 European countries in order to uncover possible fraudulent practices that substituted high quality pure Arabica coffee with the cheaper lowland coffee, Robusta.

Increasing public threat

“This operation shows yet again that criminals will take advantage of any and every opportunity open to them to make a profit,”​ said Liukku.

“The volume of the seizures confirms that food fraud affects all types of products and all regions of the world"

Interpol’s director of organised and emerging crime, Paul Stanfield said counterfeit and substandard food and beverages found on shop shelves worldwide and their increasing sale online was “exacerbating the threat that food crime poses to the public”.

"Operation Opson VIII saw a substantial amount of counterfeit food and drink taken out of circulation, but there is much more that can be done.

“Interpol calls for further efforts and better coordination at the national, regional and international levels in order to stem this tide which endangers the health of consumers worldwide.”

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