Russia has stepped up its battle against parmesan cheese, Danish bacon and other European delicacies, announcing it plans to incinerate contraband shipments on the border as soon as they are discovered.
Last year, Russia banned cheese, meat and vegetable imports from the EU and other countries who have imposed sanctions on the country over its actions in Ukraine, a move which has hit the agricultural sectors of many European countries but has also restricted choice in Russia and driven up food prices.
President Vladimir Putin signed the decree ordering the destruction of food which breaches sanctions last week, with the law due to come into force officially on Thursday. The products must be destroyed in front of witnesses, and the act should be captured on video, to preclude corruption.
According to footage shown on state television, authorities have already begun the process. “An operation to liquidate dozens of tons of contraband pork has taken place,” a news anchor announced on Tuesday evening, followed by footage of triumphant customs officials apparently unveiling a huge consignment of “Ukrainian” pork fat that was actually a Danish product with fake labels. Around 35 tonnes of pork, in blue containers, was thrown into incinerators.
Yulia Melano, spokesperson for the Russian food standards watchdog, said 114kg of pork product with Brazilian labelling was seized on the border with Kazakhstan after customs authorities determined the probable origin was an EU country. It was ground down to make livestock feed.
An online petition calling on the Kremlin to rethink the law has been signed by more than 170,000 people , saying it is grotesque to destroy food in a country where millions still live below the poverty line.
The petition asks: “Why should we destroy food we could use to feed war veterans, pensioners, the disabled, families with many children, or people who suffered in natural disasters?”
Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said the president had signed the law, and that meant discussion was over on the topic for now.
Russians are still allowed to bring parmesan and other banned items into the country themselves, if it is for personal use. The government has said the ban will give Russian manufacturers a chance to enter the market and shine but local producers have struggled to make European cheese analogues, while overall prices have gone up.
Food is not the only sector to suffer. From 10 August, there will be increased checks on Dutch flowers arriving in Russia, following claims that some of them contained bugs and parasites.
“Now all Dutch flowers will be examined with a microscope at the border, and Russian flower growers will be given their chance to develop their market,” a news bulletin said.
A further set of bans is under discussion which would restrict the import of a number of medical items, including x-ray machines, tampons and condoms. The proposals, first suggested by the ministry of trade and industry on Tuesday, have not yet been sent to the Kremlin but have already been met positively by some Russian officials.
A ban on the import of condoms would make people “more disciplined, more strict and discriminating in choosing partners, and maybe would do a favour to our society by helping to solve demographic problems,” Gennady Onishchenko, Russia’s former top medical official, told RIA Novosti.
Russia has one of the world’s fastest growing HIV epidemics. Following a mixture of outrage and amusement on social networks, the ministry clarified that only government purchases of condoms would be affected, which account for just 2% of the market in the country.
By Shaun Walker in Moscow