Counterfeit And Illegal Pesticides Worth Up To €80M ($94M) Seized During Operation Silver Axe VI

June 18, 2021

By a Biometrica staffer

On Thursday, June 17, Europol said 1,203 tons of illegal pesticides were taken off the market by it in a joint operation that involved law enforcement authorities from 35 countries. The amount of pesticides seized during the operation was worth up to €80 million (roughly around $94 million) in criminal profits, Europol said.

It was the sixth edition of operation Silver Axe, which specifically targets the trade in counterfeit and illegal pesticides. Pesticides are among the most regulated products in the world. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), for instance, lists four main factors that it examines during the process of registering a pesticide, which is a scientific, legal and administrative procedure. The factors are:

  • the ingredients of the pesticide;
  • the particular site or crop where it is to be used;
  • the amount, frequency, and timing of its use; and
  • storage and disposal practices.

While conducting the evaluation, the EPA considers a wide variety of potential human health and environmental effects associated with use of the product, including the effects on endangered species and non-target organisms, and the possibility of contamination of surface water or ground water from it. The company that wants to produce the pesticide must provide data from studies that comply with its testing guidelines.

There’s a reason why pesticides is such a heavily regulated industry. “Unregulated substances can be extremely dangerous for the environment and human health. The use of cheaper illegal and substandard products has led to the devastation of fields and other ecosystems, which has caused serious harm to the world’s biggest pollinators: bees,” Europol said in its statement today.

For example, a case during operational activities as part of Silver Axe IV uncovered how the unregulated use of neonicotinoid, contained in a non-approved product, led to the death of bees raised in the area. Although the trees that the product was used on did not have flowers, their leaves extracted sugar, attracting and poisoning the nearby bees. 

The global operation was supported by the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO), the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF), the European Commission’s DG SANTE, the European Crop Protection Association (ECPA) and CropLife Europe. During the operation, law enforcement authorities targeted both online and offline sales of these illicit products.

Operation Silver Axe VI led to:

  • 12 arrests (7 in Italy and 5 in Spain)
  • 763 reported infringements
  • 268 seizures, including 1,203 tons of illegal pesticides in total 
  • Of that total: 100 tons of counterfeit pesticides were seized at seller, manufacturer and logistics companies; while 82 tons of pesticides are suspected of being counterfeited and currently under investigation

“Over the past six years, Operation Silver Axe has brought together an increasing number of law enforcement authorities and partners against those putting our public health and security at risk. The impressive seizure of over 1 000 tonnes of illegal pesticides clearly demonstrate that, together, we can better ensure the safety of EU citizens and protect the environment today and for the future,” Catherine De Bolle, Europol’s Executive Director, said.

The abuse in the trade of illegal pesticides varies from trafficking counterfeit or mislabeled products to irregular imports of banned substances such as chlorpyrifos, which was in particular focus during Operation Silver Axe VI. Although Asia and South Asia are the major source regions for illegal pesticides, Europol said it has noticed an increase in their online sales.

On June 11, 2020, for instance, the EPA ordered Amazon and eBay to stop selling a wide range of pesticide products on their platforms. It said those products were unregistered, misbranded, or restricted-use pesticides, and pesticide devices that make false or misleading claims. Its order also extended to include several products that were marketed with false or misleading claims of efficacy against the novel coronavirus variant that was behind the Covid-19 pandemic.

Illegal pesticide related crimes continue to occur. On May 27, for instance, the Department of Justice (DOJ) said that a woman was convicted for smuggling illegal pesticides into the U.S. from Mexico. The pesticides included 12 bottles of Metaldane and six bottles of Furadan. The active ingredient of Metaldane is methamidophos, and the active ingredient of Furdan is carbofuran. Both methamidophos and carbofuran are cancelled pesticides, which may not be legally imported, sold, distributed or applied in the United States, the DOJ had said. In June, the EPA said it had settled a federal pesticides case with Bellevue-based Kaliber LLC for selling misbranded pesticide devices manufactured by the Chinese company, Aosion.

A total of 3,771 tons of illegal pesticides have been seized since Silver Axe I, the Europol said. “Cooperation between industry and Europol on illicit pesticides is more vital than ever before. In order to deliver on the Farm 2 Fork objectives, we need to ensure there are no counterfeit and illegal pesticides entering the European market. To do this, we need to continue raising awareness for both farmers and the legitimate distribution channel to make sure they reject criminal offerings that jeopardise the sustainable production of food,” said Géraldine Kutas, CropLife Europe’s Director-General.

Video Source: Europol’s YouTube channel