Russia hits French chain Auchan with food inspections

AP News
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Posted: Aug 19, 2015 12:20 PM

MOSCOW (AP) — Russian authorities conducted "systematic" inspections at French supermarket chain Auchan following concerns about poor-quality meat, officials said Wednesday.

The inspections come at a time of tension between France and Russia over the extension of European Union sanctions and France's decision to cancel a deal to provide warships to Russia.

Inspections are underway across all of Auchan's stores in Moscow with the support of prosecutors, said Anna Popova, head of the state consumer protection agency Rospotrebnadzor, in comments reported by Russian media.

"Since the middle of June, a systematic, complete, planned inspection of all shops from the Auchan chain in Moscow is underway," Popova said.

The inspections were planned months in advance and are a regular procedure, agency spokeswoman Anna Sergeeva told The Associated Press, adding that on-the-ground checks have now finished and the agency is waiting for results of lab tests. Findings should be published within two weeks, she said.

The company's website says it has 19 outlets in Moscow with several more in surrounding areas.

"It is necessary to emphasize that these kinds of inspections are carried out regularly at shops from all retail chains and are not linked to problems with the hypermarket or customers' complaints," Auchan Russia's head of communications Maria Kurnosova said in an emailed statement. "Auchan Russia is open to dialogue and constructive cooperation to improve the quality of its work."

The move follows allegations by another Russian government agency, Rosselkhoznadzor, that Auchan's pork products had been found to contain DNA from cows, chickens and horses. Auchan's French parent company claimed Wednesday the tests were so sensitive that they would pick up trace amounts of DNA present in the working environment and didn't necessarily point to any contamination of the meat.

The company was also accused of prolonging expiry dates on meat products.

Kurnosova said Rosselkhoznadzor carried out further inspections at Auchan sites in three Russian regions Tuesday and that the company was waiting to receive the results.

The company didn't comment on reports in Russian media that it had filed lawsuits against Rosselkhoznadzor.

Last week, the French Embassy denied it had expressed "concern" over Rosselkhoznadzor's allegations, but said it had contacted the agency "for clarification on technical issues within the bounds of working contacts."

Last year, during tensions with the U.S. over the Ukraine crisis, McDonald's restaurants in Russia were subject to a range of inspections, with food safety concerns cited, and the company's flagship restaurant in Moscow was temporarily closed.

Rospotrebnadzor has often been accused of using its powers to block imports of food products for political purposes, with items from countries such as Georgia and Ukraine previously blocked at times of political tension.

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This story corrects the spelling to Rosselkhoznadzor, not Rosselkhodnadzor in 12th paragraph.