European Union (EU) customs officials have seized around 34 million counterfeit pills over the last two months, mostly originating from India, Pakistan and China.

These “tremendous results” are the result of Medi-Fake, the first coordinated action undertaken by customs controls throughout the 27 EU member states. The action began in mid-October and its seizures since then have far exceeded expectations, said Laszlo Kovacs, the EU Commissioner for Taxation and Customs, in Brussels yesterday. “This success shows the value of the new Community approach to risk management. It multiplies the effectiveness of customs controls, thereby better protecting citizens and legitimate business from new and increasing security and safety threats. Co-operation between customs and legitimate business proved vital,” he added.

Medi-Fake’s largest haul, of 2.2 million fake pills at Brussels airport, is the biggest seizure of illegal medicines ever recorded in Europe. Of these, 1.6 million were painkillers and 600,000 were anti-malaria treatments. Also, Le Havre customs stopped a consignment of 400,000 counterfeit medicine pills and 11 million pseudoephedrine pills. Other frequently-seized items have included counterfeit treatments for cancer and erectile dysfunction, plus antibiotics and cholesterol-lowers, said the Commission.

This Medi-Fake operation is the first Priority Control Action to be implemented under the EU Customs Risk management Framework, which was adopted in December 2006 and has introduced a better risk information-sharing mechanism and set uniform risk-selection criteria for controls. Security and safety threats cannot be countered by short operations but require consistent and targeted controls at all points of the EU at all times, said officials.

The action commenced with meetings between the Commission, member states’ customs experts and pharmaceutical specialists which identified key risk indicators and high-risk pharmaceuticals to be the subject of reinforced controls. These were transformed into an agreed common risk profile to target high-risk traffic at all points of the external border controls.

The range and number of illegal medicines stopped by the action far exceeds any previous results, with exceptional results achieved by many member states, most notably Belgium, France, Spain and the UK, said the Commission.

The initiative has also highlighted areas where improvements can be made in the fight against imports of illegal, dangerous or counterfeit goods, and makes it evident that increasing cooperation with industry is very important, officials emphasized.