Coordinated by Europol, authorities in 25 EU member states and six other countries1 took action against illegal and counterfeit pesticides from January to April 2022. In the major operation Silver Axe VII, officials arrested ten suspects and confiscated a total of around 1,150 tonnes of illegal pesticides – similar to the amount seized in last year’s operation Silver Axe VI. Investigators focused on ports and airports that could be used to import illegal pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides, as well as selected online marketplaces and a factory used to manufacture counterfeit crop protection products.
The findings indicated a significant increase in the trade in illegal pesticides in southern Europe and in the Black Sea region – in particular, shipments of illegal goods from Turkey have increased rapidly, according to authorities. Overall, however, China remains the most relevant country of origin for illegal and counterfeit pesticides. In addition, there was a further increase in seizures of smaller consignments (up to 10 liters or kilograms), which had also been observed in previous years. Notably, the operation also highlighted that counterfeiting of well‑known brands for crop protection products is growing.
// As a result of past Silver Axe operations, law enforcement authorities have been able to seize almost 5,000 tonnes of illegal and counterfeit pesticides.
Catherine De Bolle, Executive Director, Europol
What also appears to be particularly worrying, is that according to authorities, illegal crop protection products are increasingly often being produced inside of the European Union. In this context, officials observe several practices: One relevant modus operandi, for instance, is to import plant protection products in a generic packaging which resembles the packaging of a brand‑name manufacturer. Once delivered to the target market in Europe, the counterfeit products are simply labeled with an alleged brand name.
In other cases, fraudsters might, for example, simply import the ingredients for fake crop protection products. The counterfeits are then manufactured in Europe, using locally produced fake packaging. As part of this year’s Sliver Axe VII operation, authorities scored a rare strike against one of these underground factories in Bulgaria. As another ploy to disguise their illegal business, criminals sometimes also pretend that an illegal product is approved in one EU country – and would therefore allegedly be allowed for sale in another country of the bloc.
// We need to continue to communicate about these products so both farmers and legitimate businesses recognise and reject criminal offerings that jeopardise the sustainable production of food.
Olivier de Matos, Director General, CropLife Europe
Industry representatives supported the operation Silver Axe VII through the industry association CropLife – which subsequently emphasized how important targeted communications is in the fight against counterfeiting. Next to the private-sector associations CropLife Europe and CropLife International, the operation was also supported by the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO), the European Anti‑Fraud Office (OLAF), and the European Commission’s DG SANTE.