Day three of Closing Speech for the defence

23rd Oct 96 - Day 285 of the Trial


The third day of closing speeches by the defence began with Mr Morris giving the references for the points he had not been able to provide for the previous day. He then commented that it might be a little chaotic because he was not fully prepared. He added that he wished he could provide all the references immediately but that he had little time to prepare the previous night for domestic reasons. He then stated that both Helen Steel and himself were completely exhausted, and that their papers not in the best of order. Justice Bell refused to accept the defendants claims, that they had not had enough time to prepare, and that they were completely overwhelmed by the amount of paperwork in the case (280 days worth of transcripts, evidence from about 180 witnesses, dozens of scientific reports, etc - all to be read, analysed summarised and turned into a comprehensive speech, backed up with complex legal submissions).

Mr Morris proceeded to talk on the subject of McDonald's reputation. He said that both McDonald's and the fast-food industry itself have a bad reputation in relation to rainforest destruction, and already had this reputation before the existence of the London Greenpeace factsheet. He argued that the defamation regarding this issue found in the factsheet could not make the reputation of McDonald's any worse. This argument represents one of the possible defences against a libel charge.

Referring to letters from McDonald's (to the BBC, the WWF, Veggies Ltd, and others), Mr Morris read out claims by the company regarding their innocence over rainforest destruction. These claims included; 'neither the US or the Canadian companies or any other McDonald's company has used, or does use, meat which comes from cattle reared in former rainforest areas', and, 'McDonald's world-wide is not involved in any manner in dealing with rainforests or their removal or in buying beef as a result of cattle that have been grazing in areas that were formally rainforests'. Mr Morris said that McDonald's assurances were lies and gave references to evidence which proved his claims. He continued by saying that McDonald's were fully aware that they were not telling the truth. Mr Morris said that the point he made was to show that McDonald's had a bad reputation for their involvement in rainforest destruction, and that it was an opinion held by a variety of organisations and individuals. Furthermore they had abandoned their right of self-defence having lied publicly on the subject - this had now lowered their reputation even further.

Mr Morris then proceeded onto the so-called 'rainforest policy' that McDonald's formulated in 1988/89. He said that the policy was a result of increasing public concern and that it again confirmed that McDonald's had already developed a bad reputation in this area. He claimed that in creating the policy, McDonald's had recognised their responsibility as key players in an industry that resulted in deforestation. He reminded the court that McDonald's is the largest user of beef in the world (admitted by the company) and as the largest promoter of beef (in the UK 75% of fast food TV adverts are by McDonald's), McDonald's were continuing to expand the global demand for beef.

Mr Morris then referred to evidence that during the 1960's, the US beef industry had turned to imports (especially from Central America) to satisfy that demand. He later added the fact that the export of beef from Costa Rica had doubled between 1959 and 1972. He continued by saying that 80% of Brazilian beef was being exported around that time, mostly to Western Europe, which has no laws against regions with Hoof and Mouth disease - McDonald's had now admitted that 5 consignments of Brazilian beef in 1984 were imported for their UK customers.

Mr Morris latter added that McDonald's suppliers only used certain cuts (the cheap bits) that represent about 10% of each carcass. With their high levels of demand, it meant that around 6% of cattle world-wide would have some part of them used to make McDonald's products.

It was argued by the defence, that McDonald's role in the global demand for beef is so instrumental to deforestation that all the other claims in the rainforest section paled into insignificance. This appears to be an attempt by the defendants to use the 'Section 5' defence referred to yesterday.

Mr Morris then proceeded to talk about the inadequacies of US beef labelling law which categorises any beef which has been imported and checked as 'US beef'. He said that if McDonald's were serious about their policy regarding rainforests, they would lobby for better labelling laws. He pointed out that the company has a history of lobbying on other issues (such as relating to minimum wage laws). He also pointed out that when they had been given the opportunity to take the moral high ground and work with Friends of the Earth in 1985 to lobby for change, they did not and cancelled futher negotiations after being asked some probing questions by their UK Director Charles Secrett (a defence witness)..

Mr Moris latter added that numerous witnesses on this issue had agreed that the US labelling system was inaccurate and inadequate, and resulted in the masking of the Central American beef supplies. None disagreed that once beef entered the USA it would be considered domestic supply and become indistinguishable from beef truly produced within the USA. In conclusion, Mr Morris said, "..the US labelling system in the states ensures that it is inevitable that imported beef is lost into the domestic supply and any beef bought on the market on any kind of scale is bound to include some imported beef."

There was a five minute adjournment at mid day. On continuing, Mr Morris talked about McDonald's 'import/export' policy, which he described as simply expressing a preference for local products. Yet, he pointed out that due to admissions by McDonald's, it was known that many international transactions of beef to McDonald's stores have occurred; Brazil to the UK, Brazil to Switzerland, Taiwan to Australia, New Zealand to the Japan etc.

Mr Morris continued by saying that David Walker of McKeys Ltd., (the sole supplier of beef to McDonald's in the UK since 1978) had admitted that, in 1984, he had never heard of any rainforest policy. He had been importing Brazilian beef despite McDonald's co-called 'policy' on supply, and their claim that an world-wide edict had been sent out by the Chairman of McDonald's. Mr Morris expressed the opinion that McDonald's public claims regarding the use of local products [whether of beef, food or packaging products etc] was nothing more than a public relations tool. He added that such claims were generally quite meaningless. He outlined how Robert Beavers of the Corporation's Board of Directors had admitted in the witness box that up to the early 1980s it had been impossible to police the beef supply chain, even if the company had wanted to.. and that for that reason (over concerns about fat content etc) McDonald's had reduced suppliers from 175 down to 5. Mr Morris concluded by saying that McDonald's simply could not argue that they had never used imported beef. It was a statistical inevitability, as the defence expert witnesses had testified, that substantial amounts of Central American beef would have been consumed by McDonald's customers.

The court adjourned for lunch at 1pm and on recommencing, Mr Morris returned to the formulation of the rainforest policy in 1988/89. He said that the method used by McDonald's to identify areas of rainforest was totally unscientific and quite arbitrary. He claimed they were not serious about the issue and only wished to present a responsible public face while not having any practical effects in reality. Continuing to cover McDonald's attitude to the policy, Mr Morris quoted Sid Nicolson regarding some cross examination about workers rights (or lack of them) at McDonald's stores. Asked about why company policies were being breached, Mr Nicholson (the UK Vice President) had replied, "it is only policy", "policy is only a guideline" etc. He then quoted Mr Oakley, Head of Purchasing for McDonald's in Northern Europe, about a claimed 'environmental action' policy who had stated that he had "seen it on a wall at head office", and that he thought it had not had any effect in practise but had "certainly had an effect on the public relations department."

There was another short break at 3pm after which Mr Morris talked about the admissions made by McDonald's suppliers interviewed in the film 'Jungle Burger'. The sales director of Co-op Montecillos, McDonald's sole supplier of beef to their local stores there, had stated on camera that his company also supplied beef for McDonald's in the USA . In a Statement from him supplied by McDonald's for the McLibel case he failed to deny or even to denounce the things he had said on camera about exporting to McDonald's suppliers in the US.

Mr Morris finished, "The overall conclusion about the policies is that, in any event, they are completely incapable of stopping the damage to the tropical rainforests, even if they were watertight, hundred percent monitored, imposed, whatever, because the damage is done by McDonald's promotion of the global demand for beef products. Which is the cause of tropical forest destruction in central and Latin America."

The court was all ready to adjourn at 3:40pm but not before another argument over the transcripts scandal in which the defendants have to pay for the official daily transcripts of the hearing. The first 2 days of the Closing Speeches were very important and the defendants had had to pay about 850 pounds in order to obtain legal advice.

Nothing further was resolved and the court finally adjourned at 3:50pm


Note:Due to the unavailability of the official court transcripts at this time, this report has not been checked for accuracy against the transcripts but was complied from extensive notes taken during the day.
See also: The report for the previous day
The report for the following day
and, for summaries of all the key evidence given during the trial;
Trial News 1, Trial News 2, and Trial New 3