Russia begins destroying smuggled Western foods
Russia launched Thursday a controversial campaign to destroy tonnes of Western food from gourmet cheeses to fruit and vegetables smuggled into the crisis- hit country, defying a storm of criticism.
President Vladimir Putin last week signed a decree ordering the incineration of all food that breaches a year-old embargo on Western imports imposed in retaliation to sanctions over the Ukraine crisis.
"From today, agricultural produce, raw products and foods, which come from a country that has decided to impose economic sanctions on Russian legal entities or individuals ... and which are banned from import into Russia, are due to be destroyed," the agriculture ministry said in a statement.
Moscow last year banned a slew of food products from the West, ranging from gourmet cheeses such as Parmesan to Spanish hams to staples such as apples.
Russia complains that some importers are getting round the ban by illegally relabelling food to claim they were produced in neighbouring ex-Soviet countries.
The food safety agency said it would start destroying several hundred tonnes of contraband produce on Thursday that is has already seized.
Smuggled food was scheduled to be incinerated in regions bordering ex- Soviet Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine, the Rosselkhoznadzor agency said.
A spokeswomen for the agency said that the go-ahead had already been given to incinerate tonnes of cheese from Latvia and tomatoes at military firing ranges.
A source in the food safety agency warned that officials who opted to "destroy" gourmet delicacies by eating them would face criminal charges, pro-Kremlin Izvestia daily reported.
The move has been widely criticised for wasting food as the economic crisis and sanctions have pushed millions of Russians into poverty and made it harder for them to afford basic foods.
"This is no ordinary measure. This is a display of barbarity, a challenge to society, a refusal to see the ethical side, where it is most important," Vedomosti business daily wrote in a front-page editorial.
On Thursday morning, more than 258,000 Russians had signed an online petition on website Change.org calling for the foods to be given away to the needy.
Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov, who normally toes the Kremlin line, said the move was "extreme" and proposed sending the food to children's homes and to the separatist pro-Russian regions of eastern Ukraine.