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Finnish Customs has conducted a preliminary investigation into a criminal case involving suspected smuggling of animal-based fodder raw material from Denmark to Finland. The fodder that was delivered to fur farms may have been contaminated by the coronavirus or some other animal pathogens. According to the Finnish Food Authority, the incident has posed a serious risk of animal diseases spreading in Finland. Customs and the Food Authority organised a briefing on the case in Kokkola today on 28 June 2022.

In 2021, a Finnish fur fodder mixing plant imported fish waste from Denmark for use as fodder raw material. In Denmark, the fish waste had been stored in a facility that also contained dead minks that had been put down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Danish party involved should have applied for advance authorisation with the Finnish Food Authority for sending the product to Finland due to a higher-than-normal risk of animal disease.

As requested by the Food Authority, Customs Investigation has investigated the case as a suspected illegal importation of animal-based by-products. Altogether 1.3 million kilograms of fish waste was imported to a fur fodder mixing plant in Ostrobothnia. The amount is equivalent to 45 truckloads. The fodder that contained fish waste was delivered to about 50 fur farms in Ostrobothnia during the spring and summer of 2021. The import value for the total amount of the product was over 200 000 euros.

According to the Food Authority, the illegal activity has posed a serious risk of animal diseases spreading in Finland. Such diseases include various fish diseases, salmonella and the coronavirus disease. The activity in question is regarded as having caused a risk to human health, and a serious risk to animal health.

Significant European precedent for criminal investigations involving food chains

In the preliminary investigation, Customs cooperated with the Police of Denmark and Europol, the EU law enforcement authority. The case is being investigated as involving smuggling, causing a risk of an animal disease spreading, and a breach of the legislation on by-products.

Three persons responsible for the operations of the fodder mixing plant are suspects in Finland. The fodder mixing plant has been in operation for several decades, and has delivered fodder to dozens of fur farms in Ostrobothnia. Finnish Customs has cooperated with the Danish police authorities in the investigation.

As far as Customs and the Food Authority know, a criminal investigation of this kind has never been conducted in Europe before. The Food Authority considers the criminal investigation in Finland as significant. The case will be forwarded for consideration of charges to the National Prosecution Authority during the autumn.

− Criminal activity changes shape all the time. We should now consider whether a broader scale of penalties is in place for serious criminal cases of this type that pose a threat to society. It should examined whether the Finnish Criminal Code should contain a provision on an aggravated form of smuggling. The currently valid penal scale cannot be applied to import cases investigated as involving smuggling, as opposed to corresponding suspected cases of criminal activity. This sends an unintended signal of these offences supposedly not being as serious as other criminal acts, says Mr Hannu Sinkkonen, Director of Enforcement at Finnish Customs.

Legislation on by-products aims to protect public health and animal health

The use of animal-based by-products is regulated by national legislation and by EU law. By-products comprise animal parts that are not used as foodstuffs.

Animal-based by-products are divided into three categories based on how serious a health risk they pose. The fish waste imported for use as raw material for fodder is under category 2, and the Food Authority does not allow the import of such animal-based by-products due to the risk of animal diseases.

Some animal diseases are transmitted only between animals, but some of them can also spread to humans. In order to control the risk of diseases and to prevent them from spreading, joint EU legislation is in force placing rules also for trade in by-products within the EU. Before high-risk products are sent to another Member State, a case-to-case assessment of animal disease risks must be done first. Senders must also apply for appropriate authorisations. In Finland, the related authorisations are the responsibility of the Food Authority.

− The situation in terms of animal diseases in Europe has worsened significantly in recent years. For example African swine fever, highly pathogenic avian influenza and the IHN fish disease have spread in Europe. In this instance, the activity undertaken by the company that received the consignment of fish waste and by the sender company has caused a risk of the spread of animal diseases, says Ms Terhi Laaksonen, Director of the Food Authority’s Animal Health and Welfare Department.

Legislation on by-products aims to protect public health and animal health. When processed appropriately, by-products do not cause a risk to human health or animal health. Products under category 2 must be processed in the manner required before they can be used as, for example, fertilisers or as fodder for fur animals.

The case in question is a criminal offence involving the food supply chain. Customs and the Food Authority have cooperated in developing measures countering such offences as an element of the cooperation project between authorities for combating the shadow economy and economic crime.

Source: Finnish Customs