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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

New Food Tests Yield Bad News

Pesticides in tea, formaldehyde in coffee beans and lead in Russian bread are among the discoveries made by the country's new testing and certification agency after its first three months of work.

"We've begun with taking the first small steps", said Boris Migachov, general director of Rostest at a press conference Wednesday.

But Migachov said the agency still needs 1, 500 laboratories, more tests and more regulations in order to carry out the new consumer protection law signed by President Boris Yeltsin in July.

Enforcement, said Sergei Bezverky, chairman of the standards committee for Rostest, remains weak because the law relies on consumers to bring actions against manufacturers that sell sub-standard products.

So far, center labs have certified 89 foreign food products and 29 foreign electronics items. About 300 Russian products that have been tested have been approved.

"Other countries abroad started working in this sphere one or two dozen years ago", Bezverky said. "We started here in 1985. There were no concrete acts at first because industry didn't demand quality goods. Only when the products were turned down abroad did they see the need for such a program".

Still, Rostest's actions are a marked departure from the past, when consumers had little choice over what they could be, and consumer rights were not even an issue.

Rostest has rejected both foreign and Russian sub-standard products and levied fines on Russian factories.

The center, working with German, French, Japanese and U. S. partners, has detected traces of pesticides in one brand of Indian tea and elevated levels of lead in bread at a Russian bakery. It has also fined several factories, such as a construction cooperative in Zelengradsk that had to pay 18, 000 rubles for producing poor-quality bricks.

Their testing arsenal includes some state-of-the-art equipment - including a $93, 000 U. S. -made machine that can detect pesticides in foods. Products must measure up to standards that have been adopted based on acceptable international norms, Migachov said, part of an effort by Russia to increase the attractiveness of its products abroad.

Factories and stores with products that flunk the tests cannot sell them, and factories can be fined.

Foreign products must either be tested and certified at Rostest labs or carry internationally accepted testing marks. There is also list of approved products given to customs officials.

"About 30 foreign goods that were tested did not get approved", Bezverky said. They included coffee, tea, honey, grains, cooking oils, meat from China, liquors from Italy, Finnish and Chinese vodka and sugar from North Korea, he said.

Among the 25 Russian products that were nixed were toys that contain leaded paint, milk containing elevated levels of zinc and unsafe electric samovars.