U.S.-Russian Relations Take a Turn Toward the Drive-Through

Russia's consumer protection agency is suing McDonald’s over food safety concerns and false nutritional information.

A McDonald’s on the outskirts of Moscow. (Photo: Maxim Shemetov/Reuters)

Willy Blackmore is TakePart’s Food editor.

It’s like Freedom Fries but in reverse: As tensions between the United States and Russia continue to rise in the wake of MH17 being shot down, a Russian regulator is pushing to block certain McDonald’s products from being produced and sold in the motherland.

The watchdog agency Rospotrebnadzor is hitting the fast-food chain, which opened its first Russian location on Moscow’s Pushkin Square in 1990, with a barrage of charges, including posting false nutritional information and food-safety violations. It filed a lawsuit against the chain, seeking a temporary ban on certain menu items.

“The regulator says the company is deceiving consumers about the energy value of its Cheeseburger Royales, Filet-O-Fish, Cheeseburgers and Chicken Burgers and about [the] nutritional value of its milkshakes and ice creams,” according to Reuters. Rospotrebnadzor also contends other products were contaminated with coliform bacteria, which could lead to food poisoning.

“We have identified violations which put the product quality and safety of the entire McDonald’s chain in doubt,” the consumer protection group’s head, Anna Popova, told Russia’s Interfax news agency.

There are plenty of public health groups and activists in the United States who would agree with that sentiment. But this isn’t the first time the chain has been treated as a stand-in for the United States, or that food regulations have been used as a foreign policy tool.

Last June, Russia’s chief sanitary officer encouraged Russians “to temper their interest in exotic, foreign foods and instead, to stick to a ‘patriotic’ diet of traditional national cuisine.” He singled out McDonald’s as one of the exotic interlopers watering down his idea of a nationalistic cuisine.

And then there are the more direct incidents, such as when Georgian wine imports were blocked in 2006, contributing to rising tensions between Russia and the former Soviet republic that led to war in 2008. Imported Ukrainian cheese, American chicken, Moldovan booze, and other foreign food products have been similarly politicized.

None of those incidents, however, went to court.

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