Russian War on Western Food Counts Cheese as Contraband

By Anthony DiFlorio
Former Editor-in-Chief

Western sanctions on Russia over its interference in Ukraine are being met with a strict response from the Kremlin: sanctioned foodstuffs from the United States and the European Union will be buried or incinerated upon seizure.

Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree in the first week of August ordering the destruction of all food—from gourmet cheeses to fruit and vegetables—that breaks the year-old embargo on Western imports, according to Al Jazeera.

On August 6, Russian food safety agency Rosselkhoznadzor said in a statement released by the Ministry of Agriculture that the flattened cheese—amounting to almost nine tons, according to Al Jazeera—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,” Rosselkhoznadzor announced.

A hotline has been set up for concerned citizens to anonymously report sightings of contraband cheese and other products.

As reported by RBK Daily, more than 300 tons of food were destroyed on the first day.

Suspect food shipments were seized at various border points and at wholesale markets: more than 1400 pounds of Polish apples destroyed in Novosibirsk, Siberia, along with nine tons of carrots near Moscow, and a consignment of Irish port discovered at a warehouse in Reutovo, according to The Guardian.

The policy, condoned by Agriculture Minister Alexander Tkachyov, highlights how ineffective Russia’s year-long ban on Western foods has been. Government officials have acknowledged that the bans were being frequently circumvented by illegally placing new labels that claim the food was produced in neighboring ex-Soviet countries, such as Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan.

“It is a worldwide practice that if you break the law, if it is smuggled goods, that they have to be destroyed,” Tkachyov stated, reports Al Jazeera.

Authorities across Russia are now increasing their efforts to combat illegal smuggling. According to CNN, Russian police busted a major cheese smuggling ring in Moscow, where 470 tons of contraband cheese, worth an estimated $30 million, were confiscated.

In a video online released by Ukraine Today, uniformed inspectors in Tatarstan in Central Russia are shown impounding three frozen geese, which were allegedly labelled incorrectly, from Hungary.

However, the latest practice has not been without steep domestic criticism and despair.

More than 378,000 people have signed a petition on Change.org calling on President Putin to end the policy and redistribute confiscated food to the poor and needy throughout Russia, according to the Telegraph. Additionally, Russia’s Communist Party, traditionally a supporter of Kremlin policy against the West, has introduced a bill that would require confiscated food to be distributed to the poor.

Ultimately, the move is evoking memories of a forgotten era of Russian suffering during World War II.

Ludmilla Smirnova, a Saint Petersburg pensioner and survivor of the Siege of Leningrad, told the Telegraph, “It simply makes my heart bleed to see it. When you remember what happened here, when you have seen a child asking for food and known that you have nothing to give it, such [food] waste is simply incomprehensible.”

Anthony DiFlorio

ANTHONY DIFLORIO is a senior student of international relations and Italian and Russian language, literature, and culture. His academic and journalistic interests include the nexus between technology, education, and international affairs. He’s fascinated by innovative storytelling with digital media. When not writing, he can be found exploring. Anthony was editor-in-chief of the Envoy from March 2013 to December 2014. Contact Anthony at anthony.diflorio@student.shu.edu.

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