Aleksandr Belyayev, Roskachestvo: “The ‘bio’, ‘eco’, ‘from farmer’ labels are just a beautiful name”
The vice director of NGO about the authenticity of labels, traces of antibiotics in food and the effect of “quality and price”
Russian suits are more durable than foreign, pelmeni in the Russian market aren’t flawless, while the “eco” labels are often just a beautiful name. Experts of Roskachestvo (Russian System of Quality) non-government organisation came to such a conclusion. Realnoe Vremya talked with the vice director of the NGO at a recent forum of Retail Companies Association. In an interview, Aleksandr Belyayev said if we should look at the price when choosing foods, whether we could trust labels, if there was GMF in Russia and more.
“Russian producers’ men’s suits were more durable than foreign”
Aleksandr, how many goods a year does Roskachestvo examine and how many of them turn out substandard?
We’ve examined over 4,500 goods over the years. About 780 of them had violations. It turns out that about 20% don’t comply with requirements of regulations.
We can’t call it certainly substandard. It’s important for us to explain a consumer that a wrong label is also a violation, but it’s not as serious as a violation of production technology. We explain this, we can say we teach a consumer to be literate in these issues. Now we’ve launched even a website of the “smart consumer”.
How does the situation change year after year? What tendencies do you see?
If we take wide consumption categories into consideration, for instance, dairy and baked goods, here we can note positive dynamics.
For instance, we’ve recently examined another 10 trademarks of kefir from regions and can easily say that quality has notably improved. We haven’t found starch in the ingredients and even traces of antibiotics.
What are the most frequent violations? Who violates more often: Russian or foreign producers?
We can’t say that all Russian producers violate, while the foreign ones are ideal or on the contrary. There is a number of examples that show that the quality of Russian goods is better than that of foreign. For instance, Russian producers’ men’s suits were more durable and better than foreign. Ketchup is another example. We compared the product of a famous international trademark made in the Russian plant and in another country, we saw no difference.
We can’t say that all Russian producers violate, while the foreign ones are ideal or on the contrary. There is a number of examples that show that the quality of Russian goods is better than that of foreign
“The GOST standard label in most cases is true”
How can consumers avoid falling prey to dishonest sellers?
First of all, we advise consumers to turn to our research, stay tuned for the news on the website of Roskachestvo. It’s a guide for consumers that can help every buyer to make a correct choice. Talking about some general things, of course, it’s important to read the label, make sure the packaging wasn’t violated. It’s basic rules.
What’s the percentage of lie on these labels in this case?
It’s quite low, producers themselves don’t want to run a risk by making a good not complying with the label.
We often see the phrase “made by GOST standard”. Can we trust such products?
The GOST standard label in most cases is true: 95% of standardised products we’ve examined were produced according to all requirements. The label and real ingredients were different only in some cases.
The GOST standard labelling in most cases is true: 95% of standardised products we’ve examined were produced according to all requirements. The lettering and the real ingredients were different only in some cases
“All pelmeni trademarks have a flaw, though small”
At the media forum’s plenary discussion you said about myths among consumers. You denied the content of remains of mice, paper and so on in sausage. Are there any other interesting myths Roskachestvo has dispelled?
There is an interesting story about washing powder. Powders removing all kinds of stains are often advertised on television. Our research showed that there aren’t universal detergents, each powder has its own trajectory.
An example of pelmeni is illustrative. There is no pelmeni in Russia that would comply with a higher standard a hundred per cent. All trademarks have a flaw, though small. The ratio of meat and dough is wrong somewhere, traces of antibiotics are found in other examples. Even expensive pelmeni are problematic. Moreover, we examined the most expensive pelmeni in the market (they cost about 700 rubles a kilogramme). So they were worse than those twice cheaper.
In what categories of foods apart from pelmeni doesn't the price indicate quality?
Fish. Alaska Pollock and red caviar showed similar results. We’ve recently examined dog food. Unlike elite foreign producers, Russian manufacturers showed even a better result in a series of elements the animal needs. This surprised many.
Do they, in fact, overpay for the brand, not the quality?
This happens very often. But we should understand that a good’s price includes advertising, promotion and entrance to the market. Last year, we did big research on Russian wine. We chose 300 wines from 300 to 1,000 rubles. We invited over 300 experts, including European sommeliers. The Russian Wine Guide was issued according to the research’s results. Then we did an experiment by inviting three members of the supervisory council of Roskachestvo to taste and compare Russian and foreign wines whose vintages, grape variety and price were similar. It turned out that Russian wines don’t give way to foreign analogues.
We don’t say that a substitute is bad. But such a product can’t lay on the same shelf with usual milk. Now we’re actively working with chains so that they will separate these products on shelves and won’t confuse people
How does import substitution improve the quality of goods?
The task of Roskachestvo is precisely to improve the quality of Russian products. The key element is to act via a consumer. We want to create a community of smart consumers who read labels, pay attention to the Quality Seal. Producers try to make a good better to comply with requirements. This is why I think the quality of products is growing. We try to communicate the idea that they must improve.
Every year Russians are offered cheese products instead of cheese, cottage cheese products instead of cottage cheese and wine and beer products instead of wine and beer. What’s the stance of Roskachestvo on this issue?
The law suggesting that if a food contains milk-based fats instead of milk, it can’t be called milk. It’s a serious step towards segmentation. We don’t say that a substitute is bad. But such a product can’t lay on the same shelf with usual milk. Now we’re actively working with chains so that they will separate these products on shelves and won’t confuse people.
The new rules suggest that, for instance, cheese containing vegetable fats will be called a “food containing milk with a milk fat substitute made by cheese technology”.
Today the use of antibiotics in agriculture is quite a topical issue today. What products do more often contain traces of antibiotics? How often is this problem detected? And how is this issue controlled?
Antibiotics more often are found in dairy and meat. But we can’t say this problem is critical: traces of antibiotics are rarely found.
Is anything done regarding traces of antibiotics?
Talking about regulation with violators, this is more within the expertise of the Russian consumers’ protection watchdog Rospotrebnadzor. As Roskachestvo, we tell the consumer the truth about goods, then the consumer makes his choice.
Antibiotics more often are found in dairy and meat. But we can’t say this problem is critical: traces of antibiotics are rarely found
“Eco is just a beautiful name”
What will you say about eco products? Can they really be called eco?
Certification for organic products, which is to put some order in the market, will be introduced next year. Now you can buy, for instance, a yogurt with labels “bio”, “eco”, “from the farmer”, but it will have nothing but a beautiful name. There are no requirements for the use of such labels. Of course, this problem requires a solution.
Can I, for instance, open a shop, call it “eco” and sell any products?
In fact, yes. It’s clear that there is anyway a small segment of honest products. But it’s considerably more expensive than usual.
Should we still be afraid of GMF in vegetables and fruits?
Our research show that there is no GMF, even in the cheapest food.
Is there a confirmation that farmers’ dairy is better than the one on the conveyor belt?
We haven’t entered the market with research yet. But this issue is interesting for us, of course.
“There is no law saying to do bad things”
Roskachestvo completed the creation of a new standard for baby food. What’s the difference between the new rules and the previous GOST standard?
We’ve tightened safety rules. The task was to make baby food as similar to breast milk as possible. This didn’t exist previously, and it wasn’t regulated.
Good milk and bread can be found in any region, one just needs to look for them better
Do the quality of goods in different regions vary somehow? Let’s say, milk is better in one region, bread is in another one.
Our process of research isn’t limited to a region, we take a wide range. More often it’s products from big shop chains. It’s clear they repeat in different regions. As for local producers, they also participate, but I can’t say they distinguished themselves in regions. Obviously, there Vologda – one of the dairy leaders, the Far East is fish, a number of regions are famous for its textile and so on. But good milk and bread can be found in any region, one just needs to look for them better.
Can the same good be different in chains in regions?
If we’re talking about chain trademarks, it’s nearly impossible. To create such products, one recipe and even the same factories are used.
Do you think that producers are always guilty when their good isn’t perfect? Can there be problems in regulations or legislation?
There is no law saying to do bad things. Every type of products has its own standards. If a producer considers that the standard doesn’t suit, he can produce a good according to technical conditions.
At the moment the Russian consumer should be careful when purchasing a good that required special storage conditions. Today there is a problem of the so-called cold chain when a good can go rotten when transporting the good from the enterprise to the shop due to a failure in the temperature regime. And the producer will have no guilt for it.