Russians risk jail over poppy pastries

18th May 2009, Comments 0 comments

Traditional pastries filled or topped with poppy seeds are a favourite snack for Russians and are available at bakery kiosks on almost every street corner in Moscow.

Moscow -- Hundreds of Russian spice traders face jail after the authorities opened criminal probes over their selling of poppy seeds for use in much-loved sweet pastries, rights activists said Wednesday.

"Several investigations have been opened against spice traders throughout Russia, which means that we can talk about a real and systematic operation" launched by the federal anti-drug agency, lawyer Natalya Andreyeva told reporters.

The lawyers described the case of Igor Osimin, a spice wholesaler from the southeastern city of Kursk, who was arrested in 2008 in his warehouse and accused of leading "a group of drug traffickers".

His wife Lilia, who appeared at a news conference in Moscow alongside the rights lawyers, said he faces 8-20 years in prison if found guilty.

Tests showed that the poppy seeds sold by her husband contained 0.0001 percent of impurities, enough for his produce to be considered a narcotic substance.

Traditional pastries filled or topped with poppy seeds are a favourite snack for Russians and are available at bakery kiosks on almost every street corner in Moscow.

According to new legislation implemented in January 2007 only blue poppy seeds without any such impurities can be imported or sold in Russia.

This was imposed after the authorities in 2003-2004 dismantled an opium production network that was based on poppy seeds.

Half a kilo (one pound) of poppy seeds destined for consumption with impurities of 3-8 percent could yield between four and six doses of opium, experts said.

According to Ludmila Alexeyeva, one of Russia's most prominent rights activists and a member of the Moscow Helsinki Group, it is impossible to guarantee the total purity of poppy seeds.

"Either a percentage of impurities of up to three percent should be allowed -- as was the case before 2007 -- or the import of poppy seeds into Russia should be banned completely," she said in a latter to the anti-drugs agency.

The poppy seeds used in cooking throughout eastern Europe come from the opium poppy (papaver somniferum).

The drug opium is produced from the young pods rather than the seeds themselves but all parts of the plant contain small amounts of opiates.

AFP/Expatica

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