Confiscating more than 1,300 tons of fake pesticides, EU law enforcement agencies have once again successfully cracked down on the trade in illegal plant protection products. Hundreds of investigations have been launched and many are still ongoing in several EU countries.

During the Europol-coordinated Operation Silver Axe 5, European customs officials seized a total of 1,346 tons of illegal pesticides that were unlawfully imported into the EU. This is double the number of products seized compared to previous year’s operation. Operation Silver Axe 5 took place over a period of 13 weeks this year, involving authorities from a total of 32 EU and non-EU countries1.

In total, customs inspected more than 3,000 tons of pesticides at land and sea borders, domestic marketplaces, and in parcel deliveries. Europol coordinated the operation together with the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF), the EUIPO, other EU agencies, and industry representatives. The operation led to 260 newly opened investigations and two arrests so far; numerous investigations in Belgium, France, Germany, Poland, Slovenia, and Switzerland are still ongoing. “The record number of seizures brought by the fifth edition of operation Silver Axe clearly shows the effectiveness of international cooperation”, commended Catherine De Bolle, Europol’s Executive Director.

An area of around 207,000 square kilometers could have been treated with the confiscated pesticides – this is more than the entire agricultural land in Germany. The illegal products mainly came from China and India. Often, they were falsely declared for re-export out of the EU, but were actually intended for sale within the EU. “The traffic of illicit and/or counterfeit pesticides is one of the most profitable businesses for international fraudsters, and is estimated to represent up to 13.8% of all pesticides sold in the EU. It harms the European economy, damaging legitimate businesses and stifling innovation, putting many jobs at risk in Europe“, said Ville Itälä, Director-General at OLAF


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EUIPO estimates that 10 to 14 percent of the European market for pesticides is affected by illegal trade. Criminals can earn up to 70 euros per kilo with such illicit products. Criminal organizations involved are also engaged in other illegal activities, such as smuggling counterfeit cigarettes and illegal trade in pharmaceuticals.

The abuse of pesticides is reported to range from trafficking counterfeit or mislabeled products to the illegal import of prohibited substances, such as chlorpyrifos, which was specifically targeted by the Silver Axe 5 operation. During the past Silver Axe operations, which have been carried out annually since 2015, a total of 2,568 tons of illegal pesticides have already been seized; in the past, large amounts of illegal pesticides have also been confiscated in Hamburg.

1 26 EU members (Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Croatia, Cyprus, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain) and six other countries (Australia, Colombia, Switzerland, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United States)
Sources: Europol, OLAF