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'Russian' Produce Often Has Western Origins, Says Grocery Magnate

A lot of seemingly local produce in Russia has
A lot of seemingly local produce in Russia has

Russian grocery stores may soon be lacking in more than just camembert and prosciutto, says the founder of one of Russia's largest grocers.

Officials billed Russia's August 7 ban on food imports from the European Union, the United States, Canada, Australia, and Norway as a tool to strike back against Western sanctions while also spurring growth in the country's own agricultural sector.

But in an interview, Dmitry Potapenko, the founder of the Pyatyorochka supermarket chain, told RFE/RL's Russian Service that so-called homegrown foods themselves often rely on Western products.

"The text on the [milk] packaging says 'local farmer?' Well I'm afraid that everything else is foreign," he says. "It's in a Tetra Pak produced in Sweden, produced from foreign milk powder, and with German and Dutch equipment."

Potapenko says other products, like European seed potatoes -- the spuds used for growing rather than eating -- and Canadian bull sperm, may not ever appear on grocery shelves but are necessary to produce the foodstuffs that do.

Moscow has said that it will mitigate any falloff in grocery stocks by both increasing reliance on locally produced goods and shifting to new import markets, including China and South America.

But experts have warned that building infrastructure for an agricultural sector where technology lags behind the West could take as much as a decade and that potential international replacements like China and South America may come with their own costs.

Potapenko says Chinese products may not meet the same quality standards as European goods. Latin American standards largely meet Western ones, he says, but the costs of importing the food from so far away are steep.

In the two weeks since the sanctions were imposed, average food prices have increased by 6 percent in Moscow and other regions have seen steep rises in some staples. In Russia's far-east Primorye region, the cost of meat has gone up 26 percent, according to "Kommersant."

Russian authorities, meanwhile, appear to be backtracking slightly on the blanket embargo. An August 20 decree amended the law to allow imports of seed potatoes and other products, including lactose-free milk and certain fish products.

Canadian bull sperm remains banned.

Written by Glenn Kates based on interview by Mumin Shakirov
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    Mumin Shakirov

    Mumin Shakirov is an experienced field reporter and TV host for RFE/RL's Russian Service. He has covered armed conflicts in Tajikistan, Chechnya, Georgia, and the former Yugoslavia. An award-winning documentary filmmaker, Shakirov is the host of the weekly Facets Of Time TV show.

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    Glenn Kates

    Glenn Kates is the former managing editor for digital at Current Time, the Russian-language network run by RFE/RL in cooperation with VOA. He now reports for RFE/RL as a freelancer. 

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