be fooled by the packaging. "Lepton"
may not be "Lipton.".
More than 60 percent of food products in Armenian
markets are sold with overdue use by dates and
some of them contain potential health risks, according
to the recent research of the Armenian Union for
the Protection of Consumers' Rights.
The president of the Union, Abgar Yeghoyan, says
that the great amount of imported products in
Armenia does not correspond to the standards of
consumer rights, food safety and pose threats
to the public health.
Many foreign products, for example, contain information
only in the language of the country in which it
Some products made in Armenia do not include the
date of production, including dairy products of
some local producers.
"In Armenia despite an advanced law on consumer
rights accepted in January 2002, the consumers
are not protected. The most part of the law remains
on paper and does not impact the processes in
the market," Yeghoyan says.
Yeghoyan says that more than half of goods do
not have appropriate quality certificates, indicative
of a shadow economy.
"If all the goods exported and made in Armenia
had certificates, the total sum of the taxes would
be three times higher than it is now," Yeghoyan
Consumer rights activists say that the condition
is, in part, a political problem.
In much of the free-market world, consumer concerns
are represented by lobbyists and independent lawmakers.
But in Armenia, enactment of laws that would tighten
regulations must be passed in a Parliament made
up largely of the very businessmen whose income
might suffer from tougher consumer laws.
According to law, all goods made in Armenia or
exported should pass through a laboratory control
to reveal if they meet proper standards.
However Customs control deals with a small part
of exported goods, and the rest appears in Armenian
markets having gone unnoticed, without control.
The result is sometimes a hybrid product masquerading
as something it isn't. For example: "Nescofe"
coffee and "Lepton" tea.
A small bar of Turkish chocolate costs from 20
- 50 dram (about 5 to 10 cents) and is the most
accessible kind of candy for most of the population.
Most of the goods of poor quality come from Turkey
and Iran such as chocolate, powdered juices, chewing
one-cent product isn't necessarily a dollar-value
just because of the wrapper.
Colon bacillus was discovered in Turkish powder
juice "Zuko" and in "Toffita"
candy during a laboratory examination initiated
by the Union.
Both products are very popular in Armenia due to
their low cost and the main consumers are children.
"The law on consumer rights limited the activity
of public organizations," Yeghoyan says.
"According to the law the public organizations
are not sanctioned to make laboratory examinations
of the products. Actually we can do it but the results
can not impact the situation as we are not authorized
to call to account those people whose businesses
bring a danger to the public health."
Another advocate for consumers' rights is the
Quality Inspection of the Ministry of the Trade
and Economic Development. Officials there say
their activity is limited by the poor budget,
small staff and imperfect law.
"According to the law the inspection can
be made only once a year of the one grocery unit,"
says vice director Gevorg Gyozalan. "Besides,
three days before, we have to present them the
schedule of our work and can make inspection no
longer than fourteen days."
The inspections check the certificates, which
are supposed to be attached with each product.
If the product does not have the certificate the
owner of the shop can be charged as much as 100,000
drams (about $170).
But the inspectors can go to the same place only
once a year.
The article of the law is to protect the independence
and interests of the entrepreneurs. But it does
not have an effect for the consumers.
"There are 55 people in our office who make
inspections throughout the Republic. And of course
such a small staff can hardly do all the work"
says the head of inspections Ashot Manukyan.
Recently the Quality Inspection department applied
to the Government asking for more authority. But
their proposals were not accepted by the National
Officials from the inspection say that people
blame them for the bad quality of products in
Armenia. But inspectors say the problem with quality
starts in Customs.
In most cases it starts in Sadakhlo, on the border
of Armenia and Georgia, a major import station
for products made in Russia, Turkey, Iran and
Yeghoyan leads a consumer rights advocacy
group and lobbies for better restrictions
on food products.
"All the products that enter Armenia go
first to one of 84 laboratories. But they deal
with the products of businessman who deliver to
the republic tons of products," Manukyan
But the labs never see the tons brought by private
Each person coming into Armenia (usually by bus)
is allowed 50 kilograms of goods. If they buy
products abroad for re-selling in Armenia, the
businessmen often pay others to share their baggage
in order to avoid inspection. Hundreds of kilograms
of candies and other products come into the country
by such methods.
Manukyan says the situation is getting better
and that each year the amount of poor-quality
and potentially harmful goods is reduced.
"But in their turn our people have to be
more attentive to what they buy and what they
eat. We are the institution that protects consumer
interest, but they can help us at least by not
buying goods with overdue dates."
Manukyan says that he appreciates the efforts
of consumer action groups, though he says they
sometimes publish inaccurate information.
Both the Union for Protection of Consumers' Rights
and the Quality Inspection department have publications
on consumer issues and appear on TV and radio
with consumer education programs. But both groups
agree that the main problem is related to economic
conditions that force many people to simply buy
whatever is cheapest.