Food Destruction Causes Public Outcry in Russia

Russia destroys seized food
An employee operates a bulldozer while destroying illegally imported food falling under restrictions in Belgorod region, Russia, August 6, 2015 in this handout photo provided by Federal Service for Veterinary and Phytosanitary Surveillance in Belgorod. Federal Service for Veterinary and Phytosanitary Surveillance in Belgorod region/Handout via Reuters

Hundreds of thousands of Russians have taken to the internet to voice their opposition to the government's decision to destroy contraband food products, seized by Russian authorities under trade sanctions imposed on European importers.

Russia officially began implementing its new policy of bulldozing the banned food imports on Thursday. The food products include basic goods such as fruit and vegetables, dairy products and meat from EU-member states and other European countries that have supported economic sanctions on Russian businesses which were put in place following the Ukraine crisis.

On Thursday Russian authorities began bulldozing the seized food, causing a huge public outcry in a country in the middle of a recession.

As pictures of food packages being burned, bulldozed or buried at the border began to spread, incredulous Russians took to Twitter, propelling the hashtag 'Russia Burns' to one of the top trends globally.

Some used the hashtag to share images of the dumping, while others chose to poke fun of it. One image that emerged was a mocked up picture of Russian President Vladimir Putin, bemusedly surveying a supermarket, instructing aides to "burn everything here."

Other popular parody tweets included an edited version of the famous painting of Russian king Ivan the Terrible cradling his son in remorse, after accidentally killing him, only the body of his successor is airbrushed out and instead the Russian monarch sobs while embracing a block of Swiss cheese.

#РоссияЖжет pic.twitter.com/HTrY0wNLJ6

— Леонид Дегтярёв (@leon_elk) August 6, 2015

The popular Soviet propaganda poster of a Russian man refusing alcohol at the dinner table was also edited to have him turn down parmesan.

Meanwhile over 312,000 people have signed an online petition, calling on Putin, prime minister Dmitry Medvedev and the State Duma to reverse their decision to destroy banned food imports.

"Why should we destroy food which could feed war veterans, pensioners, the disabled, families with many children, victims of natural disasters and other groups in need," the petition's creators write.

Russia is in the middle of a financial crisis, brought on by U.S. and EU economic sanctions on state businesses, the reduced price of its main export, oil, and a currency crisis that has seen the rouble take single day dives as big as those at the end of Boris Yeltsin's presidency.

"Sanctions have led to a considerable rise in prices of agricultural produce on Russian supermarket shelves. Russian pensioners, war veterans, large families, the disabled and other citizens in need have suffered as a result of these sanctions already and are forced to strongly restrict their diet to the point of starvation," the petition's authors write, pleading for new legislation to be brought in, which would redistribute the seized goods to the vulnerable on a charitable basis.

"This new law would help these groups of the population to become compensated for what they lost as a result of the sanctions."

Russia destroys food sanctions
Packs of sliced beef ham and cheese are placed on the ground as part of a display of illegally imported food falling under restrictions in the territory of Pulkovo airport in St. Petersburg, Russia, August 6, 2015. Russian government plans for mass destruction of banned Western food imports have provoked outrage in a country where poverty rates are soaring and memories remain of famine during Soviet times. Peter Kovalev/Reuters

The petition argues that destroying the goods results in a double whammy for Russia's poor as not only do prices of food remain high, but the government must invest further funds in destroying imported food.

"Destroying the products only creates another expenditure on the state budget, while the redistribution of goods can be handled by charitable organisations without any drain on Russia's budget," the authors add. "We are prepared to create a public commission which will decide what to do with sanctioned products and it will organise their redistribution."

On the eve of the new policy of destroying seized, contraband food, Dmitry Peskov, Putin's aide, commented on the petition to reverse the practice. Speaking to RIA Novosti he said the Kremlin was aware of the initiative, however he dismissed it due to the lack of verification that the signatures are those of Russian citizens or even genuine individuals.