Fair dairy: Tatarstan dairy producers stop using palm oil?

New labelling requirements made milk factories refuse products with vegetable fats

Milk factories are switching to new packaging, as labelling rules that have come into force in January require it: the content of palm oil must be indicated in bold type on the front side of the label. Being afraid this will scare the consumer, several producers including in Tatarstan started to withdraw products with vegetable oils from the assortment. However, import volumes of this feedstock are still high in Russia and continue growing at the moment – palm oil imports increased by a quarter last year and hit almost a billion tonnes (946,100 tonnes). Realnoe Vremya tells the details.

Palm oil labelling becomes compulsory

Palm oil isn't prohibited in the food industry, but the consumer has the right to know about its presence in the food and make a choice on his own: whether to buy it or not. This is why producers have been obliged to openly inform buyers about the presence of vegetable fats in a product. Corresponding amendments to the technical regulation of the Customs Union On Safety of Milk and Dairy came into force on 11 January. So what has changed on milk shelves during this time?

Milk processors were warned about the new labelling requirements beforehand providing with 180 days to change the packaging and create new declarations for goods with changed names. Now products with palm oil must contain the words ''milk-containing products with milk fat replacer'' in the name and data about production technology. Moreover, this information must be noticeable: in a special information space in contrast bold type at least 2,5mm thick on the front side of the label. There also must be at least a 3mm thick inscription ''Contains vegetable oils''.

''Yes, we have spreads, and we've changed the packaging for new lots. We are writing they contain vegetable oils – all in accordance with the requirements. But we had stocks with old labels, we've just stamped them as it should be, in bold type. Of course, we produce a small number of these products, as little as possible, on request. When it became a problem, we almost refused them. Sometimes we even don't produce spreads, mainly butter,'' head of the laboratory of Archa Arsk Milk Factory Alsu Zakiyeva told Realnoe Vremya.

''All products in Kazan are manufactured without milk fat replacers. But again, we have five production sites in the holding,'' said the administration of the Kazan Milk Factory. Photo: Roman Khasayev

The Kazan Milk Factory said they didn't produce foods with vegetable fats but accepted supplies from other milk factories of Komos Group holding from Udmurtia, whose part our enterprise became in the summer 2017.'

''All products in Kazan are manufactured without milk fat replacers. But again, we have five production sites in the holding. For instance, we don't manufacture Minions, curd snacks, ourselves, they are made in Izhevsk, vegetable fats are added in. And if our shops place an order on them, a lorry comes here and distributes. But we haven't so far received these products in the new packaging,'' said the administration of the Kazan Milk Factory.

Who will pay for 'inconvenient' labelling?

The Zelenodolsk Milk Factory produces cheeses (Editor's Note: products with vegetable fats) only on one site – in Buinsk.

''Name is the only thing that has changed in these products. If earlier it was called a cheese product, now it will be called a ''milk-containing product with milk fat replacer''. It will be written that vegetable fats are used with big letters in bold type, so no cheating. The name has just become longer, to make it clearer. We don't have other products with vegetable oils,'' explained Deputy Director General of the ZMF on Quality Roza Garipova.

The National Union of Milk Manufacturers with about 100 processing companies-members said they didn't notice anybody to resort to the new labels on the first day of application of new labelling requirements.

''We, for instance, have never seen the new packaging. And we didn't manage to find out which producers had changed it. We're waiting for a transition period, usually, it's durable products, that's to say, they still can be in circulation with the old packaging. In addition, spreads and cheese products are often sold loose, and they may not have it at all. What's more, we know some cases when producers refused to produce foods substituting milk fat by vegetable fat in the end because our society has quite deep-rooted prejudice about vegetable fats. And some companies withdrew such products from the product line,'' said Director of the Department of Relations with the Public and Government Authorities Soyuzmoloko Maria Zhebit.

In the interlocutor's opinion, the population in Tatarstan with a big feedstock reserve and many regional processors is well provided with natural products at low prices. And there aren't so many companies working with vegetable oils. However, palm oil imports in the country in general are just gaining pace. Imports of this feedstock rose by 24,1% last year, to 946,100 (by 12,2%, to $677,6m in monetary terms). So dairy in the new packaging might appear on shelves soon. Under conditions of limited demand, producers won't shift costs to buyers' shoulders due to the change of labels and components.

Legal business is hit, not fakers

Milk terms will disappear from names of products with vegetable fats, for instance, such goods can't be called ''smetanka'' instead of ''smetana'' anymore. Otherwise, this will be considered as cheating the consumer. The new labelling requirements, first of all, will affect cheeses where the share of milk containing products has considerably risen. If it was 12-14$ five years ago, now it's risen to 27-28%. Also, there are many milk fat replacers in butter production, less in cottage cheese and creamy products.

''Actually, we're washing away legal products manufactured in the low price category for socially unprotected citizens. It occupied its own niche, those who wanted bought it. So now we are trying to exclude legal producers who pay taxes and provide job opportunities, it won't affect fakers – they did and will violate the law,'' Zhebit complained.

The new labelling requirements, first of all, will affect cheeses where the share of milk containing products has considerably risen. Photo: Maksim Platonov

Experts of Soyuzmoloko see tightening responsibility for milk fakes as a solution to the problem. Moreover, not only in retailing but in state procurement, which accounts for a big volume of fakes. According to the Federal Service for Veterinary and Phytosanitary Surveillance, the share of dairy confusing the consumer might reach 20%. The service claimed that 7% of milk and 8% of cheese on Russian shelves contain vegetable fats.

By the way, last week the Federal Service for Veterinary and Phytosanitary Surveillance set up a hotline for complaints about quality, safety and shelf life of dairy. Specialists of the Food Hygiene Surveillance Department will answer questions of residents of Tatarstan.

By Vasilya Shirshova

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