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Russia’s war on McDonald’s takes aim at the Filet-o-Fish

Customers eat at a McDonald's  in Moscow on Feb. 15, 2010. (Alexander Zemlianichenko Jr./Bloomberg)

Russia said earlier this week that it had no intention of answering Western sanctions by making it harder for Western companies to conduct business in Russia.

But all bets are off, apparently, when you threaten the Russian waistline.

Russian federal consumer protection agency Rospotrebnadzor filed a lawsuit against U.S.-based McDonald’s on Friday to ban the sale of products they consider substandard.

In a statement published on their Web site, the agency said that they had found the calorie content of various McDonald’s menu items was far higher than advertised during a June study of restaurants in the Russia’s Novgorod region, northwest of Moscow. The agency also said they had collected evidence that various McDonald’s menu items contained E. coli and other dangerous bacteria.

“We have identified violations which put the product quality and safety of the entire McDonald’s chain in doubt,” Anna Popova, who heads the agency, told Russian news service Interfax.

The report on which the lawsuit is based singles out the Filet-o-Fish sandwich, Royale Burger, chicken burger and cheeseburger for having a calorie content “two to three times” what was specified in the reported nutritional values, and cites various milkshake and ice cream products for reporting only about half their actual protein, fat and carbohydrate content. The report states that dangerous bacteria were found in the Caesar Roll and Vegetable Salad.

In total, the agency found the McDonald’s restaurants they reviewed had committed 11 violations of Russian administrative law, carrying a fine of 70,000 rubles, or about $2,000.

But the federal agency decided to file the lawsuit “in the interest of consumers,” Popova told Interfax, “so as to ban production and sale of substandard products.” Court proceedings begin in August.

Popova added that her agency might carry out random checks of McDonald’s restaurants in Moscow and elsewhere in the country to see if the same violations crop up elsewhere.

In a statement posted on the company’s Russian Web site, McDonald’s said it had not been approached by Rospotrebnadzor, and that it had “not received notice of any claim” against the company.

The McDonald’s statement also generally disputed the allegations, citing the “quality and safety of the products that we provide to our customers” as a top company priority, and stating that the nutritional values of food items were calculated “based on the methodology approved by the Food Institute of the Russian Federation.”

The Russian lawsuit doesn’t seek to shutter the McDonald’s chain – just remove the objectionable items from the menu.

But the idea of a full McDonald’s ban has been suggested.

In April, Russian Duma member Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the outspoken leader of the ultra-nationalist Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, called for shutting down the entire McDonald’s chain of restaurants in Russia.

Zhirinovsky proposed the ban shortly after McDonald’s announced that it would shut down its locations in Crimea for "operational reasons." In late March, Russia annexed the Crimean region following a referendum, claiming that it had to protect the Russian-speaking population there after protesters in Kiev ousted pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych in February.

Earlier this month, a Russian chain, RusBurger, told reporters that it would take over the McDonald’s locations.

Related: How McDonald’s went from hero to zero in Russia