Russia crackdown as food fraud runs rife

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Russia, Nutrition

Fake food and drink products in Russia control up to 94 per cent of
the market in some sectors and their numbers are rising in others
as authorities redouble efforts to fight back, says the country's
consumer agency in a special interview with Angela

Nadejda Nazina, vice-director of RosPotrebNadzor, the Russian Agency for Health and Consumer Rights, said her organisation seized food products worth RUB340 million (€9.6 million) last year.

The agency also issued 30,000 orders to destroy counterfeit goods after inspecting 132,000 food industry associations and producers.

Nazina said she believed the problem of counterfeit food products remained widespread in Russia, despite only making up small part of the whole industry.

According to information from the Ministry of Internal Affairs the ratio of counterfeit products in some fields runs from 73 to 94 per cent - making Russia one of the worst countries in the world for fake goods.

In many Western nations, such as the UK or US, the quota of counterfeit products is about 10 per cent. Russia's economic collapse in 1998, however, offered food fraud a much better home with the opportunity to fill empty shelves with cheap, counterfeit goods.

Nazina highlighted condensed milk as a big culprit with producers often making cheaper versions using vegetable fats, yet still putting condensed milk on the label. Some even falsify factory identification codes on packs to try and escape safety authorities.

Fake mineral water is also a big problem. Around three quarters of mineral water sold in Russia is thought to be fake, with counterfeit bottles even controlling half of the more developed Moscow market, despite regular checks by police.

Alongside these, authorities also estimate that one in every six tins of canned fish does not contain what the label specifies, for instance herring instead of salmon or sardines instead of saury.

Even baby food products are known to be suspect with many pack labels missing dates of manufacture and nutritional information as well as failing to indicate which vegetable fats were used in production.

At the end of last year, Russia's parliament, the State Duma, discussed the problem with deputies, scientists, police and customs employees.

Petr Shelitz, vice-chairman of the Duma Committee on Civil, Criminal, Arbitration and Processing Legislation, presented figures showing the volume of counterfeit and fake products on the Russian market was still increasing.

In response, the committee drafted a new national programme to raise the fight against food fraud, and this has recently enabled police to obtain special permits for greater and swifter access to producers.

In January, new state food labelling standards were also introduced under the name GOST; something that may not stop counterfeit products directly but will at least make it more difficult for fraudulent producers.

Poor labelling, whether intentional or not, is another problem on the Russian food market. A recent study revealed that between 30 and 40 per cent of product labels do not accurately describe the contents.

This problem affects all consumers no matter the price, whereas counterfeit goods tend to concentrate at the cheaper end of the market and so affect poorer people more.

GOST states that manufacturers must specify all ingredients on product labels, including which are genetically modified, as well as a use-by date. The product must also carry a registered quality mark along with the name of the organisation that issued it.

Manufacturers have to show on the labels what kind of medicinal or nutritious properties the product has too, although RosPotrebNadzor's Nazina said this could sometimes lead to new problems.

"If a firm uses vegetable fats they will often write that the product 'does not contain cholesterol' and/or is 'ecologically clean'. But, vegetable fat never contained cholesterol, and we can only talk about ecological cleanness after ecological examination and certification,"​ she said.

Food companies wanting to sell their products in the Russian Federation must apply for certification from RosPotrebNadzor to ensure they meet the relevant safety and quality standards. For more info see the pages on Russian certification at SGS​.

Related topics: Market Trends

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