Food fraud: Russian-style

Amid reports that Russian intelligence agencies are disrupting the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign (summarized as Putin wants to destroy NATO; Russian oligarchs lend Trump money; Trump says he admires Putin & NATO is bad; Russians hack DNC) comes a report documenting widespread food fraud.

Putin-bans-GMO-foods-Russia-Illegal-728x350Peter Hobson of The Moscow Times cites watchdogs as saying dairy producers routinely added starch, chalk and soap to their milk. One-fifth of caviar brands contained bacteria linked to E. coli. Bread bakers were discovered to use “fifth-grade” wheat, the sort usually intended for cattle. More than half the sliced salmon on shop shelves has been judged unsafe.

And those are only the most recent revelations.

Quality control in Russia’s food sector appears to have broken down. Products are plentiful. But behind the glossy labels, their true contents are a lottery.

In Russia’s chaotic history since the downfall of the Soviet Union, there was likely never a golden age of food quality. But things undoubtedly took a turn for the worse in 2010, says Irina Tikhmyanova, a spokesperson for Roscontrol, a non-profit organization that monitors food standards.

Back then, Dmitry Medvedev was president, and his slogan was that “state bodies must stop tormenting business.” One of the bureaucracies to be thrown out was mandatory certification of food.

The old system was not perfect. Many officials were happy to sell certification for a few hundred dollars. But it did ensure that any new product underwent some scrutiny. And its demise tipped the balance of power in the food industry toward business.

Food producers were now required only to declare that their food met quality standards. They, together with retailers, were responsible for quality. The state limited itself to checking each manufacturer once every three years — and undertook to give prior warning before arriving, unless an official complaint was received.

The article goes on to provide an in-depth anaylsis of how and why food fraud has become rampant in Russia.