Labels could be formally announced this summer

Labels could be formally announced this summer

Food products with colour-coded packaging about the sugar, salt and fat content could soon appear on the shelves of Russian retail stores, according to draft voluntary regulations written by the country's consumer watchdog Rospotrebnadzor.

Its proposal would instruct food manufacturers to mark packaging with 'traffic lights' symbols indicating the levels of salt, sugar, trans fats and fatty acid levels in red, yellow and green colours.

Rospotrebnadzor officials say the new system could be formally launched this summer without requiring fresh primary legislation from the Duma, the Russian parliament. Its document includes guidance on how manufacturers should calculate daily norms for the consumption of sugar, salt, trans fats and fatty acids for all product categories, advising on which traffic light notification would be appropriate in each case.

Under the new system, manufacturers should be able to allocate up to 30% of the packaging for traffic-light graphical health information images.

The Russian food industry has reacted cautiously to the proposals – flagging up potential problems.

Alexei Popovichev, executive director of RusBrand, the Russian association of branded goods manufacturers, told just-food: "The majority of consumers are already aware of products that have a high content of salt or sugar - for example, chips." However, he warned consumers could react with surprise to some future colour coding on traditional food products. "For example, the level of fat in ordinary curd might be marked in red, which might spark concerns from customers."

Maria Kardakova, a nutrition expert at the prestigious Moscow-based Levadnaia paediatric health centre, said the reform would be positive and negative.

"These markings will help consumers make a more conscious choice. It will help people with poor eyesight, retired people, as well as those, who do not understand the composition of products," Kardakova said.

However, traffic light marking can be "a huge problem for people with eating disorders", she warned – increasing their anxiety about food. She also warned the labelling scheme, as proposed, lacked some sophistication. "Saturated fats in dairy products are not the same as saturated fats added during production. However, their labelling will take place identically," she noted.