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Russian Food Burning: Incineration of Smuggled Food Prompts Protests

The reported burning of 350 tons of banned foreign food in Russia earlier this week prompted outrage among some critics.

The destruction of 350 tons of banned foreign food in Russia last week prompted outrage among critics who said the contraband victuals should be distributed to the poor.

Forbidden foodstuffs included Polish pig hearts and apples, Italian kiwis, Moroccan nectarines, Irish pork and cheeses of unknown provenance, the state agriculture watchdog reported. No American food was named in the reports.

"I agree that it does not look pleasant," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov conceded in an interview to RBC news website on Thursday. He said food was being destroyed out of "concern for citizens' health."

The government of President Vladimir Putin banned Western food imports in 2014 in retaliation against sanctions imposed against it over its annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula and alleged meddling in the war in eastern Ukraine.

Related: Russia Steamrolls Contraband Western Cheese, Fruit to Enforce Ban

The destruction will continue “for quite a while,” the watchdog’s deputy head Alexei Alexeyenko said on Friday, news website reported.

The move prompted an outcry in Russia, where the number of people living below the poverty line is currently at 16 percent and growing. Destroying food remains a powerful taboo in Russian culture.

An online petition on calling for the food to be distributed to the poor and the disabled gathered 300,000 signatures, an all-time record in Russia’s history.

But distribution is out of the question because the officials will likely steal much of the food, Agriculture Minister Alexander Tkachyov said Thursday, Tass state news agency reported.

The ban has caused food prices to skyrocket and spawned a lucrative food contraband market. Smuggled food was previously returned to importers upon interception.