2,040 tonnes of illegal pesticides seized and 21 suspects arrested in global operation

Eighth edition of annual joint effort between public and private sector marks the largest seizure of fake or illegal pesticides to date

Operation Silver Axe VIII, Europol’s annual operation targeting fake or illegal pesticides, took place between 23 January and 28 April 2023 and involved law enforcement authorities from 32 countries (all EU Member States and five third-party countries). The European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO), the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF), the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Health and Food Safety (DG SANTE), CropLife Europe and CropLife International supported the operation. In total, law enforcement seized 2 040 tonnes of fake or illegal pesticides, arrested 21 suspects and dismantled several production facilities used to counterfeit pesticides.

During the operation, law enforcement authorities identified criminal trends in plant protection products emerging on the EU black market. These trends include the sale of counterfeits, banned products and unregulated imports – both online and offline. The participating authorities carried out inspections at land and sea borders, inland marketplaces, parcel service providers and online marketplaces. Cases of abuse in the trade of illegal pesticides range from trafficking counterfeit or mislabelled products to the irregular import of banned substances. While Asia and South Asia remain the primary source regions for illegal pesticides, much of the production and finishing takes place in the EU.

Devastating effects on ecosystems

The pesticide industry is highly regulated, and pesticides are among the most regulated products in the world. 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, such as bee populations. Furthermore, counterfeit and illegal pesticides negatively impact the EU economy and the reputation of legitimate stakeholders across the entire agri-food chain. The collaboration between public authorities and private sector stakeholders will continue to build on the joint successes achieved to date.

Catherine De Bolle, Executive Director of Europol, said:
Operation Silver Axe, through its relentless efforts, has not only seized almost 7 000 tonnes of illegal and counterfeit pesticides but also underscores the high cost of unauthorised plant protection products. These clandestine chemicals may come with a low price tag, but they take a heavy toll on the environment, public health, agricultural livelihoods and even the well-being of our vital bee colonies. By removing these unregulated threats from the market, we are contributing to a safer and healthier future for EU citizens, exemplifying the power of collaboration in protecting what matters most.

João Negrão, Executive Director of the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) said:
The damage caused by illegal pesticides is appalling and clearly requires close cooperation between all parties. Operation Silver Axe has proved once again how effective and necessary coordinated action is in the fight against this illicit trade, not only to prevent economic and job losses in the legitimate industry, but above all to protect our citizens and the environment.

Ville Itälä, Director-General of the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) said:
Pesticide smuggling is a threat to European consumers and to the environment. It is important that products such as pesticides remain strictly regulated and that we remain vigilant. Operation Silver Axe pooled expertise and resources from OLAF, Europol and many other partners to protect our citizens, our farmers and our environment.

Olivier de Matos, Director General of CropLife Europe said:
Counterfeit and illegal pesticides undermine the goals of the Green Deal and the Farm to Fork Strategy. They affect the EU economy and the reputation of legitimate stakeholders across the entire agri-food chain. Increasing stakeholder cooperation will continue to build on the successes achieved to date.

Total of 6 961 tonnes of illegal pesticides seized since Silver Axe I

Operation Silver Axe was initially developed to respond in a coordinated way to the dangerous trafficking of illegal pesticides. To date, the efforts of the public and private sectors have led to the seizure of 6 961 tonnes of illegal pesticides during the past eight Silver Axe operations.

Europol coordinated the operation, facilitated the information exchange, and provided operational and strategic analytical support. Furthermore, Europol specialists with a mobile office and forensic experts provided support to national law enforcement agencies.

Participating EU Member States: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden
Participating non-EU countries: Australia, Brazil, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United States of America