Europol seizes illegal pesticides in major crackdown operation
Europol has seized 190 metric tons (MT) of illegal or counterfeit pesticides, as part of a 12-day investigation involving container inspections in seven European countries.
The European Union's (EU) law enforcement agency announced the results of the massive joint operation, dubbed Silver Axe, that was focused on the illegal pesticide trade around some of Europe’s leading ports and airports.
Involving agencies from Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Slovenia, Spain and the Netherlands, it was carried out during a crackdown last month.
In total, there were 350 inspections of containers and 100 cases of infringements were detected, leading to further investigations.
"This is another example of efficient borderless policing encouraged and supported by Europol. Alongside its partners, our agency works with a zero-tolerance policy against criminals who choose to endanger the lives of EU citizens," Europol’s deputy director of operations Wil van Gemert says.
"These huge seizures of hazardous substances, and the considerable number of investigations initiated, are the result of continuously developing cooperation between the European law enforcement community and the private sector."
Operation Silver Axe was the first time there has been a large-scale collaboration in the field of plant protection products and is to be expanded in the future. It also included infringements of intellectual property rights, copyright and patents.
The Dutch Food Safety Authority (NVWA) was heavily involved in the crackdown, as the Netherlands’ ports and airports are a major gateway into Europe.
In the port of Rotterdam, NVWA officials and customs officers inspected eight shipments, six of which were found to be suspicious. The shipments were intended for transit to other countries inside and outside of the EU.
At Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, a further 11 shipments were checked and 6,000 liters of pesticides disguised as vegetable oil was found, as well as forged documentation. The substances were going to be distributed to 11 growers around the Netherlands.
Europol says cooperation with private industry played a key role in preparing for Operation Silver Axe with contributions from CropLife International, the European Crop Protection Association (ECPA) and the European Crop Care Association (ECCA).
Pesticides are one of the most regulated products in the world and can only be traded and used throughout the EU if products are proven to be safe and authorized.
"Plant protection products play a vital role in ensuring a safe and sustainable supply of food on the table of European consumers," ECPA director general Jean-Charles Bocquet says.
"Following the European Commission report of 2015, stating that illegal and counterfeit pesticides are present at an average of 10% in the EU, we very much welcome the opportunity to have taken part in such an important operation and look forward to future collaboration with Europol and other EU authorities to put an end to the trade in counterfeit and illegal pesticides."