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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Importers Unfazed by Russian-Label Rule

Foreign food producers said Thursday a new government move requiring all imported food products to be labeled in Russian is a reasonable measure that will not cause them undue difficulties or expense.

Russian officials described the resolution, to take effect May 1, as a way to protect consumers who could not read the packaging on the products they bought.

"There were many incidents where people got sick because they ate bad food or food which was outdated," said Lydia Tarashkova of the Russian state sanitary supervision committee, adding that some exporters would sell products on the Russian market that they couldn't sell at home.

"The consumer has a right to know what he is buying," she said.

The resolution was published earlier this week. It requires that all foreign food products coming into the country feature Russian-language labels or packaging for nutritional information, manufacturing date and ingredients.

It did not specify whether producers or importers would be responsible for compliance.

Foreign producers in Moscow said they had been anticipating such a requirement.

"We were expecting this law," said Klaus Olsen, head representative of the Dutch chewing-gum brand Stimorol in Russia.

Olsen said he thought it was "fair" and "natural" that Russian consumers be able to read food labels in their own language.

"We are in the process of changing our labels and in the next six months all our labels will be in Russian," Olsen said.

In general, he said, the resolution should not raise production costs or retail prices.

Timothy Lamb, general director of the American food company Heinz, said he welcomed the law, pointing out that products labeled in Russian sell better than those in foreign languages.

Heinz markets some 130 products in Russia, from ketchup to Uncle Ben's sauces to baby food.

Whereas three years ago Russian consumers preferred foreign-labeled products because they were synonymous with quality, now they want to see product labels in their own language, Lamb said.

"In 1996, we noticed that products labeled in Russian sold better than those in English," he said.

Like Stimorol, Heinz also anticipated the government resolution by starting to increase the number of products it labels in Russian.

"We wanted to avoid the last-minute rush," Lamb said.

Vitaly Brazhkin, sales manager of the U.S. company Tyson Foods, said the labeling requirement was "accepted practice in international trade." He said the poultry producer recently had been informed of the new rules by the U.S. Agriculture Department and that adapting "shouldn't be a problem."

The introduction of the resolution could be interpreted as a "formalization of the certification system," said Jean-Louis Buer, the agricultural attache at the French Embassy in Moscow. He added that the resolution is part of a larger initiative to require a certification logo on all products showing that they meet Russian government standards.