Rus­sia of­fi­cials start de­stroy­ing smug­gled Western foods


Rus­sian of­fi­cials on Thurs­day steam­rolled tonnes of cheese, fruit and veg­eta­bles, de­fy­ing public out­rage to be­gin a con­tro­ver­sial drive to de­stroy Western food smug­gled into the cri­sis-hit coun­try.

Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin last week signed a de­cree or­der­ing the trash­ing of all food — from gourmet cheeses to fruit and veg­eta­bles — that breaches a yearold em­bargo on Western im­ports im­posed in re­tal­i­a­tion to sanc­tions over the Ukraine cri­sis.

Rus­sian tele­vi­sion showed of­fi­cials dump­ing truck­loads of round bright or­ange cheeses on a patch of waste­land and then driv­ing over them with a steam­roller in the Bel­go­rod re­gion bor­der­ing Ukraine.

The cheeses

ar­rived from Ukraine in un­marked boxes, but were most likely pro­duced in the Euro­pean Union, a re­porter at the scene said.

A spokes­woman for the food safety agency Ros­selkhoz­nad­zor said that the flat­tened cheese — amount­ing to al­most nine tonnes — would be buried.

“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.

By the end of the day, a to­tal of 319 tonnes of food were de­stroyed, in­clud­ing some meats from Italy which were burned in a garbage in­cin­er­a­tor of Saint

Peters­burg’s Pulkovo air­port.

‘Not very pleas­ant’

Moscow last year banned a slew of food prod­ucts from the West, rang­ing from del­i­ca­cies such as Parme­san cheese, pate and Span­ish hams to sta­ples such as ap­ples. Food brought in for pri­vate con­sump­tion is still per­mit­ted.

Rus­sia com­plains that some im­porters are cir­cum­vent­ing the ban by il­le­gally slap­ping on new la­bels that claim the food was pro­duced in neigh­bor­ing ex-Soviet coun­tries.

Two truck­loads of Euro­pean toma­toes and three of nec­tarines and peaches were be­ing smashed with a trac­tor and bull­dozer in the Smolensk re­gion af­ter they ar­rived with fake doc­u­ments, the food safety agency said.

One truck driver car­ry­ing a car- go of sus­pi­cious toma­toes turned his ve­hi­cle around and made a get­away back into Be­larus to avoid them be­ing de­stroyed, Ros­selkhoz­nad­zor said.

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.

Krem­lin spokesman Dmitry Peskov ad­mit­ted that food de­struc­tion “vis­ually, per­haps, is not very pleas­ant” but asked media not to “ex­ag­ger­ate the prob­lem” be­cause the food is “pure con­tra­band.”

‘Dis­play of bar­bar­ity’

Rus­sia’s Agri­cul­ture Min­is­ter Alexan­der Tkachev said the de­struc­tion was nec­es­sary be­cause the food was of “du­bi­ous qual­ity.”

“It is a world­wide prac­tice that if you break the law, if it is smug­gled goods, they have to be de­stroyed,” Tkachev told Rus­sian state tele­vi­sion.

But the de­ci­sion to de­stroy the food has prompted a rare out­burst of public ire as the eco­nomic cri­sis roil­ing the coun­try has 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, more than 280,000 Rus­sians had signed an online pe­ti­tion on web­site Change. org call­ing for seized food to be given away to the needy.

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