Russians respond to calls for children's food legislation

Related tags Food products Children Nutrition Sugar Food

Russia's consumer rights authority has released details of new
legislation designed to regulate the market for foods targeted
specifically at children in response to claims by manufacturers
that the lack of government rules was holding back potential
growth, reports Angela Drujinina.

As we reported last week, Russian manufacturers of children's food are concerned that the lack of effective legislation governing their sector is stopping major international food groups from entering the market amid fears of a possible health-related backlash in the future.With Russian children benefiting from increasing disposable incomes, food companies are turning their considerable marketing might towards this sector. But with few apparent rules in place to protect them, there are concerns that children will risk serious health problems in the future if they are enticed into spending their pocket money increasingly large quantities of 'unhealthy' chips, biscuits and sweets.

In response, new draft regulations governing the production of products targeted specifically at children has been published by the Russian authorities and will be offered up for public scrutiny over the next four months.

The document was prepared by the Russian Agency for Health and Consumer Rights and was presented for the first time at a conference organised earlier last month in Moscow by consultants CVC.

Anatoly Petuhov, the agency's head, said that the regulations first set out to define just exactly what 'children's food' is. "It is defined as food products targeted specifically at children up to 14 years old and which are formulated to meet the specific physiological demands of this age group,"​ he said.

There are specific rules governing products aimed at babies, those aimed at pre-school children and those targeting school-age children, he added.

The document also sets out what types of food product can be legitimately be presented as 'children's food', including products based on milk, grains, fruit and vegetables, meat and fish.

The regulations also specify how children's food products should be made, establishing guidelines for companies in areas as diverse as plant design, water supply, ventilation, lighting, heating and equipment requirements.

In addition, there very strict requirements regarding which raw materials and ingredients are allowed for manufacturing children's food. For instance, it is forbidden to use cottage cheese in the manufacture of products for babies as it is deemed too sour, while soy flour, grains and grain products are also forbidden because they could be potentially contaminated with other products.

Meat from slaughtered livestock and poultry is also forbidden, as is fat and low-quality meat. Children's food products must also contain no flavourings, dyes, stabilisers, preservatives, sweeteners (except fructose), kitchen salt (at a level more than 0.4 per cent) and most spices.

Also according to the draft rules, products aimed at children must not contain more than 0.8 per cent salt and or more than 0.3 per cent nitrite. Confectionery products aimed at children must not contain alcohol, coffee or fats, according to Petuhov, while salads served in school canteens must not be served with mayonnaise.

Petuhov added that almost all food products aimed at children were also subject to certification by the relevant national authorities, as were most food products and ingredients on sale in Russia.

The full text of the draft regulations can be found on the agency's website​.

But despite its apparently thorough coverage of the food manufacturing process, the new regulation does littler nothing to tackle the real problem, according to Dmitry Yanin, head of the executive committee of the International Consumers Conference (ICC), speaking at the conference.

He said that there was a lack of international standards governing the social responsibility of those marketing products to children, a problem faced by legislators not just in Russia but the world over. "The ICC is helping to draw up just a set of standards, as part of the ISO (International Standards Organisation),"​ he said. "These standards are a vital part of ensuring the safety of the children's food market. In our opinion, regulating the safety of products is only part of the solution.

"For instance, it is a lack of social responsibility on the part of manufacturers that allows them to advertise chocolate and sweets as 'healthy' products. It also allows them to position products with a high sugar content as 'healthy'. Products which are generally regarded as 'good-for-you' or 'healthy' contain ingredients such as vitamins or minerals, not sugar…"

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