Russian outcry over plan to destroy smuggled Western foods
Russians hit out Wednesday against government plans to destroy hundreds of tonnes of Western food smuggled into the crisis-hit country despite a ban on produce from fruit and vegetable staples to gourmet French cheese.
Authorities are set to start incinerating the contraband products on Thursday after President Vladimir Putin ordered the destruction of goods that are blacklisted by Moscow in retaliation for Western sanctions over Ukraine.
The controversial move has prompted criticism from politicians and activists and a rare outcry from legions of ordinary Russians, who say the produce could feed the country’s poorest.
On Wednesday more than 208,000 people signed an online petition on website Change.org calling for the foods to be given away to the needy.
“Why should we destroy food that could feed veterans, pensioners, the disabled, those with large families or those who have suffered from natural disasters?” asked the petition addressed to Putin and the government.
Russia’s economy has plunged into recession on the back of Western sanctions over Moscow’s meddling in Ukraine and a slump in oil price. Moscow slapped the embargo on Western produce, from Polish apples to Spanish ham, a year ago.
The petition argues food should be handed out to compensate for soaring food prices pushed up by the embargo.
Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov questioned the value of the petition, however, telling journalists the site did not “reliably identify” signatories.
Russia’s food safety watchdog has said that it will start by destroying an estimated “couple of hundreds of tonnes” of illegal produce that has already been seized.
Among those who have publicly criticised the ruling are Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov, who is normally pliant towards the Kremlin but called it an “extreme measure”.
“I would give this food to Orthodox Christian communities, to children’s and orphans’ homes… and to our friends in the Donetsk and Lugansk republics (separatist regions of eastern Ukraine),” the Communist leader said in a television interview.
Television host Vladimir Solovyov, who generally supports the Kremlin line, wrote on Twitter: “I don’t understand how a country that lived through the horrible hunger of the war and terrible years after the Revolution can destroy food.”
Yevgeny Bobrov, a member of the Kremlin rights council, an advisory body, called the proposal to destroy food “high-handedness”, saying smuggled food should be given to the less well-off.
Those who back the destruction of food “should look at the 18 million citizens who live below the poverty line. These people need that meat,” said consumer rights advocate Alisher Zakhidov on Kommersant FM radio.