In December last year Vladimir Putin announced in a speech to the Russian Parliament: “Russia is able to become the largest world supplier of healthy, ecologically clean and high-quality food which the Western producers have long lost, especially given the fact that demand for such products in the world market is steadily growing.”
Whether ‘ecological’ food refers to certified organic produce is unclear, but the statement was widely interpreted by media outlets, such as Reuters, to be a sign of Russia’s organic ambitions.
In September 2014, the Russian parliament approved and signed into effect its National Standard for Organic Products. An unofficial translation by the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Foreign Agriculture Service can be seen here.
But according to Organic Monitor director, Amarjit Sahota, the law has not yet been finalised and so currently organic foods sold in Russia are certified by international agencies.
In the meantime, some Russian retailers are also relying on their own standards. LavkaLavka sells around 800 products ranging from bread, noodles, cakes and sweets to fresh fruit, vegetables and meat both in-store and online. Of these around 200 are certified organic, according Organic Market.
“All other products have to meet their own strict standard, which their customers trust in. To become a supplier of LavkaLavka, the farmer is personally met and the company makes sure the same eco-values are shared. All of the planting process must be organic,” it says.
Vasily Kozlov, marketing manager at LavkaLavka told FoodNavigator: “[We] sell clean products from more than 150 small family farms and factories of Russia. The term ‘organic’ is too tricky to use, but if we speak about healthy local farmers’ food, the market is spreading.
"It's hard to tell how much, but there are more and more farmers going up now,” he said, adding that the embargo has had a definite impact on the market with business entrepreneurs investing in food production, and many even converting to agricultural production themselves.
The embargo effect
Sahota told FoodNavigator he believed the Russian government was encouraging organic food production partly because of the trade embargo and import ban which came into effect in August 2014.
“This import ban also extended to organic foods. Imported food products are [also] marketed at inflated prices in the Russian market. By producing more organic foods, Russia does not have to import organic products from Europe.
“A second reason is the high price of agro-chemicals; organic production methods involve minimal use of synthetic pesticides and fertilisers, so it makes economic sense for Russia to reduce its use of agro-chemicals in farming.”
But for the moment, Putin’s organic ambitions have not yet reached the heights he aspires to. “The level of organic food exports from Russia are negligible. We see most organic foods produced in Russia for the domestic market,” said Sahota.
Nevertheless, interest and spending on organic food within Russia is generally on the increase. According to Euromonitor data, spending on packaged organic food rose from €7,819m in 2013 to €8,304m last year, although spending on organic beverages dipped from €3,708m to €3,580m.
In recent years, government officials have been speaking out against genetically-modified organisms (GMOs).
Last year the deputy prime minister, Arkady Dvorkovich, told attendees at an international biotech conference in Kirov there was no place for GMOs in the country’s food supply chain. “As far as genetically-modified organisms are concerned, we have made decision not to use any GMO in food productions,” he said.