Counterfeit alcohol is flooding the market: fake bottles, fake labels, bottle refilling and grey markets are undermining the integrity of the alcohol industry and causing financial loss for governments and companies alike.
A more sinister and pressing consequence of this illicit activity is the risk to the health of the people who unknowingly consume the fake alcohol: it’s estimated that 80 people died in Kenya this May from the consumption of illegal spirits, and 42,000 people are recorded to have died in Russia from drinking fake vodka, just two instances of the many fatalities that occur around the globe annually.
Ultramatis, an innovative business who have patented a revolutionary technology to help with anti-counterfeiting whiskey, other alcohols, perfumes, and pharmaceuticals, impress upon us the importance of anti-counterfeiting measures by outlining the health risks of consuming illicit alcohol.
Their technology uses ultrafast laser plasma implantation to insert a unique optical fingerprint into an alcohol bottle, providing a failsafe way of anti-counterfeiting whiskey and other alcoholic beverages.
Counterfeit alcohol isn’t always simply a cheaper, but still drinkable, beverage that tricks you out of your money. Instead, many fake drinks have high-quality alcohol replaced with chemicals in cleaning fluids, car screen wash, nail varnish remover, as well as methanol and isopropanol which are often used in fuels.
These alcohols may make you feel tipsy, all the while causing significant and insidious harm to your body. Anti-counterfeiting whiskey and other spirits that have the highest concentrations of alcohol, and therefore the greatest potential for harm, is of ultimate importance to avoid these immoral practices.
Common effects from consuming these low-quality alcohols range from vomiting, nausea, dizziness, drowsiness, and abdominal pain, all the way through to kidney or liver failure, permanent blindness, and death.
The counterfeiting of whiskey in the UK is widespread and poses considerable risk to human health.
Trading standards have estimated that 1 in 5 off licences sell counterfeit whiskey and entire factories have been found in the UK with the capability to both produce bottles as well as fill them. What is perhaps most troubling about this is that the alcohol content is often created using industrial alcohols like methanol, primarily sourced from highly toxic chemicals like anti-freeze. These chemicals, as well as others, can cause blindness, organ failure and even death. One of the reasons that whiskey has been so widely counterfeited in the UK is that it is very easy to reproduce the standard anti-counterfeiting whiskey solutions currently used. For example, bar codes and holograms. As such, counterfeit alcohol has been booming in the UK, with growth rates reported as 5 fold over the past 5 years. 2015, much like previous years, saw seizures of counterfeit alcohol across the UK, including over 130,000 litres of counterfeit vodka worth £1.7m from a factory in Wigan. Of course the health implications are considerable and scary, but the financial costs also should be considered, where alcohol fraud is estimated to cost the UK £1b each year and threatens a great many jobs around the country. Anti-counterfeiting whiskey strategies have been quite diverse, for example changing the design of the bottle, using caps that cannot be resealed, electronic tagging (RFID) and more.
The industry is well aware of the issue and is actively seeking new anti-counterfeiting whiskey technologies to help protect their products now and in the future. This is where Ultramatis can make a big impact. Our anti-counterfeiting whiskey technology is entirely unique and offers broad security and authentication tools which can be detected throughout the supply chain. Scan times could be as short as a few seconds or less, making is readily accessible at every level. The multi-level authenticity comes from the unique way in which the surface of the glass packaging has been processed, each security level can be checked from a single hand-held or automated device. This innovative technology also offers the capability of smart branding, where the surface design, much like a stencilled in marking on the glass, can either have a light activated colouring, for example, UV light triggers a visible glow from the surface, or a static colouring, where the colour is always visible. Presently, there is no way to deliver this kind of capability to a glass surface without using a paint, such a paint would not be capable of delivering the same level of anti-counterfeiting and would also be very easy to replicate and thus counterfeit. This is the advantage of using a sophisticated technique like ULPI.
Ultramatis’ revolutionary ultrafast laser plasma implantation technique is an effective way of anti-counterfeiting whiskey and other alcohols. To learn more about the process, as well as their award-winning team based at the University of Leeds, contact Ultramatis.