The Service for the Protection of Nature and the Environment of the Spanish Civil Guard (Seprona), the Gendarmerie of France and Europol are currently investigating "the main nut marketer in Spain", Pistachos del Sol, which has allegedly been producing "a fake organic pistachio", according to sources involved in the inquiries.
The investigation is looking into the possibility of food fraud, as regular pistachios would have been processed and marketed as organic. There are more than 70 people under investigation or charged, accused also of forgery of official documents and money laundering, which can lead to prison sentences of more than 10 years.
The investigations have been declared secret in both Spain and France, and inspections have been carried out in more than 10 locations in the two countries. The impact of the alleged scam is multifaceted. The price paid to this company's growers is much higher than those paid to their competition, causing distortions in the agro-food market, and also discouraging organic farming. The situation could also affect the organic market in general in Spain at all levels.
It also has public health implications, as many people with diagnosed allergies and those with special diets cannot consume conventional products, especially pistachios, which require a lot of physicochemical treatments of high persistence and with strong traceability in the food chain.
Furthermore, agricultural producers may be signing contracts for the next season, working exclusive with them without really knowing the situation.
Unable to switch to a different agricultural operator, their credit lines and their financial capacity may be blocked by the courts. There could be civil and criminal damages in the millions in both Spain and France, although it is expected that the countries where these products have been sold will also take legal action, especially those where the volume has been relevant, such as the UK, Germany, Switzerland and the Netherlands.
The Guardia Civil estimates that the profits obtained with this fraud amount to over six million Euro. With this alleged fraudulent practice, the firm under investigation managed to sell the products for prices between 60 and 80% higher than the real value. As a result, the consumer paid "up to 3 and 4 Euro per kilo more," as revealed by the sources.