Russia declares war on cheese, cracks down on "dairy mafia"

The Russian government has banned the import of Western cheese, and authorities are cracking down on those who break the law.

Story highlights

  • Russian authorities are cracking down on Western foodstuffs, banned in response to sanctions over Ukraine
  • Contraband fruit, meat and poultry has all been seized and destroyed -- despite an outcry from the public, angry at the waste of food
  • In the latest case, six people were arrested in Moscow on suspicion of cheese smuggling

Moscow (CNN)Police in Russia say they have smashed a major smuggling ring, arresting a gang suspected of trafficking in dangerous contraband at gunpoint. The goods in question aren't drugs or weapons, though, but cheese.

Some 470 tons of the stuff, to be precise, worth an estimated $30 million and, according to authorities, a risk to the health of the cheese-eating Russian public.
    It's just the latest episode in Russia's war on Western food.
    The crackdown has seen local authorities taking a no-nonsense approach to the hard-line Kremlin decree banning illegally imported food from the West, in response to Western sanctions on Russia over its involvement in Ukraine.
    Many are filming their efforts to eradicate forbidden foodstuffs.
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    Since regulations were introduced, state television and the internet have been filled with one shaky video after another showing all forms of destruction, from crushing to binning and even burning.
    In one video posted online, uniformed inspectors in Tatarstan, central Russia, are shown impounding three frozen geese in a small village shop.
    As witnesses look on, an officer reads out the charges: the birds, imported from Hungary, have improper documents and are labeled incorrectly, she reports, making them illegal under Russian law.
    The geese are later shown being buried in a landfill.
    In another, posted by authorities in the Leningradsky region, near St. Petersburg, umbrella-wielding officials brag about "liquidating" 19 tons of peaches.
    The fruit, said to have fraudulent papers, is shown being smashed to a pulp long into the night, even as thunder and lightning rages all around the landfill site.
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    With Russia in the depths of an economic crisis, the images have provoked a strong reaction, especially as the ban on Western food has led to higher prices in supermarkets across the country.
    Many Russians are bitterly opposed to all the waste: a recent petition against food destruction was signed by hundreds of thousands of people. It called for any products seized to be distributed to the needy, to pensioners and the unemployed.
    But the authorities, usually sensitive to a public outcry, remain undeterred; if anything, they've been stepping up their efforts.
    The story of a ban on brie, an edict against Edam and a crackdown on Camembert may seem ripe for jokes, but in Russia it's no laughing matter - authorities are taking their "war on cheese" -- and selected other foods -- very seriously indeed.