Nearly a quarter-century after McDonald’s startled and delighted Soviets with their first taste of American fast-food culture, the company is now facing a suit that could ban it from selling some of its signature products.
The Russian consumer protection agency said Friday it is taking the company to court for selling foods that contain more fats and carbohydrates than are allowed by national regulations. “We have identified violations which put the product quality and safety of the entire McDonald’s chain in doubt,” Anna Popova, the watchdog’s head and Russia’s chief sanitary inspector, was quoted by Interfax news agency as saying.
The suit comes amid especially high tensions between Moscow and Washington over the Ukraine crisis; the United States has slapped an array of sanctions on Russia over its annexation of Crimea from Ukraine for allegedly supporting separatist rebels who are fighting in eastern Ukraine.
There’s no demonstrable connection between the McDonald’s suit and the tensions, but the consumer protection agency, Rospotrebnadzor, has a history of actions that appear to dovetail Russia’s political agenda. As tensions between Russia and Georgia escalated before their 2008 war, Russia banned the import of Georgian wine and mineral water, two of its major export products, for failing to meet sanitary norms.
Last year, as tensions heated up over Ukraine’s desire to sign a trade pact with the European Union, Russia banned imports of chocolates made by the company of Petro Poroshenko, a tycoon who supported the EU deal and is now Ukraine’s president.
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 nutritional value of its milkshakes and ice creams. It also said in a statement that Caesar wrap sandwiches and a vegetable salad were contaminated with coliform bacteria, which indicates the likelihood of food poisoning.
The animosity is a far cry from the fascination that Muscovites had for McDonald’s when it opened its first outlet in the Soviet Union in 1990; customers waited in hours-long lines to experience the efficient service and reliable availability of items that were rare novelties in the Soviet era.
After the collapse of the USSR in 1991, other American and European chains staked out their own territory. Russian malls now have food courts virtually identical to America’s, except that Cinnabon, Sbarro, and other familiar names are written in Cyrillic. Read more about the story here.