Russian fake dairy industry booming

Russia has officially extended the ban on Western food imports until the end of 2017, further encouraging the counterfeit dairy industry there.

The ban, originally introduced in August 2014, follows sanctions imposed on Russia over the country's annexation of Crimea and involvement in the Ukraine conflict. It means imports of meat, poultry, fish, cheese, milk, fruit and vegetables from the European Union, the United States, Canada, Australia, Norway, Albania, Montenegro, Iceland and Liechtenstein are no longer allowed.

Since the imposition of the ban, the domestic food economy in Russia has boomed. Prior to the import ban, up to 40% of the cheese sold in Russia was imported. This is now down to around 20%.

However, towards the end of last year, there were increasing reports of a counterfeit dairy industry in Russia, with almost 80% of the cheese in the country considered fake and 25% of all dairy products substandard, according to the Russian agricultural watchdog. But industry bodies have contested these figures.

The fake market is a result of the decline in milk imports, which has lead to a shortage in supply. It is claimed this has pushed some dairy producers to use palm oil, which is poorly regulated in Russia, as a cheap replacement to milk.

While milk imports declined, imports of palm oil grew by 25% in 2015.

Palm oil, which is extracted from the pulp of the fruits of oil palms, is commonly used as a vegetable oil in baking foods such as pastries and biscuits, as well as some chocolates.

Dairy producers that use palm oil are meant to declare this on products but this does not always happen in Russia. And in many cases, products appear to be mislabelled as "all-milk" when they aren’t.

Russian news website Fontanka recently alleged that fake dairy products are "good only for filling kerosene lamps" and posted a video of cottage cheese set alight.

Other products found to replace milk include starch, chalk, soap, baking soda, lime and plaster, the agriculture watchdog said.

The degree of counterfeiting has forced the watchdog to publish a list of "honest" companies that use real milk and cream in their dairy products.

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