Day Thirteen of Closing Speech for the defence

6th Nov 96 - Day 295 of the Trial


Day 295 saw the end of the defence submissions about the section of the trial called 'Food Poisoning'. Mr Morris began by re-capping some of the points from the previous day, and providing a list of various references from the official transcripts backing up the defence case.

Mr Morris explained that McDonald's 'policy' is to rely on the suppliers of their products to enforce hygiene and quality procedures in the supply chain from farms to their stores. There are some 59 abbatoirs supplying McKeys, McDonald's hamburger producers, but McKeys rarely visited these - the court had heard that in fact even the largest abbatoir, Midland Meat Packers, only had two visits per year from McKeys. Mr Morris stated that effective monitoring could not be guaranteed, even if McDonald's genuinely wanted it.

Additionally, Mr Morris added, suppliers were only required to do 'educational' random tests once a week for the prevalent but deadly pathogen e.coli 0157H. This, he said, had "virtually no value whatsoever", especially in the light of the expert opinion of defence witness Dr North who found the testing methods totally inadequate. Even then, the court had heard that two e.coli 0157H tests had proved positive, one incidence discovered by McKeys and the other by a supplier. E.coli 0157H is difficult to detect but dangerous in very small quaantities.

Taking into account that some 6,915 head of cattle were slaughtered for McDonald's per week, it is firstly incredible that a disease as potentially fatal as e.coli 157H was treated with such lax testing (ie only one random test a week). Additionally, Mr Morris argued that it also showed that e.coli 157H was very prevalent.

In the slaughterhouse, the methods of evisceration of carcasses increased the likelihood of an e.coli contamination spreading from the guts of the slaughtered animal, Mr Morris said. He explained how McDonald's had admitted that it was only since the food poisoning outbreak at their Preston store in 1991 that McDonald's instituted the tests and specified that the guts of the carcass should be tied off. Yet it had been further admitted by McDonaldd's own witness that the gut would still sometimes split and contaminate the rest of the carcass.

McDonald's, Mr Morris argued, had effectively added to the threat of e.coli O157H since the outbreak that occured in the USA in Michigan and Oregon in 1982 - by not communicating anny details of that to the UK company. To which the judge replied: "You have a point there."

Mr Morris then said that the court had heard that meat would only be rejected if it smelled or looked bad. Mr Morris stated that they portrayed their microbiological 'safety' checks as sufficient and very scientific - giving a virtual guarantee to the customer of the quality and safety of the meat. This was not only misleading but also potentially fatal, Mr Morris added.

Another danger of e.coli 0157H not being taken sufficiently seriously was apparent in the methods of 'cleaning' in the abattoirs. By using water to clean the carcasses the potential spread of e.coli and other pathogens was greatly enhanced.

The day's proceedings were punctured by a visit to the court of approximately ten visiting judges of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation. The court was cleared for three minutes as Mr Justice Bell talked to the judges about the case - no doubt conveying the importance of the case itself and the pressing nature of the issues it dealt with. As to any sympathy Mr Bell may have received for having to sit on such a long case is speculation. The trial continued to the sound of a Russian translator repeating the proceedings to the captive audience through their 'Universal Translator' styled earpieces....how this equipment passed through the stringent court security is not clear. A McLibel press release concerning the length of the trial and the main issues was given to the 'team' of judges and was readily translated to them.

Moving on, Mr Morris claimed that McDonald's had made a number of formal admissions about the undercooking of products and in-store hygiene. In May 1994, Kingston (UK) authority had fined them 750, whilst in December 1992 Southend authorities had fined them 1000 for an undercooked McChicken sandwich. In Sutton (UK) the local authority found the corporation guilty of another incidence of an undercooked McChicken sandwich.

>From McDonald's expert Mr Jackson's evidence, Mr Morris told the court, the importance of cross-contamination was clear. The more the risk can be reduced earlier the less the potential risk later, according to Mr Jackson. Mr Morris characterised this as an important admission in the light that AT EVERY STAGE the pathogenic contamination, and hence the potential risk, was magnified - in the way the animals were reared intensively, slaughtered unhygienically, and the meat 'bulked' and processed into patties. Measures ensuring the priority of safety for McDonald's customers were not only not sufficient, but the opposite was the case, the court was told. It meant that the only real barrier to prevent food poisoning was the cooking proceedures - which were 'fragile', 'flawed' and unreliable he said, due to the high-pressure working environment (see yesterday for details, including the fact that McDonald's patties are not cooked to the minimum temperature recommended by the Government's Food Safety Advisory Committee).

At McKeys, it had been claimed that microbiological testing was carried out on the final batches of beef patties waiting for delivery, but logbook extracts referred to by Mr Morris showed that only ONE sample was taken from the whole batch (for example McDonald's get a batch of approximately one million patties a day) - this too, Mr Morris argued was clearly insufficient.

Mr Morris notied that Mr Rampton's cross-examination of the defence witnesses was often sparse and that Ms Hovi (a veterinary official from a slaughterhouse supplying raw beef for McDonald's use) had been one of the few such witnesses which Mr Rampton had 'put some effort into' cross-examining fully.

Mr Rampton was quick to his feet: "My lord, I do not accept Mr Morris's insulting terminology, the word effort should not be there."

Mr Morris withdrew the 'insult' and so the effort in Mr Rampton's cross-examination was further removed.

Mr Morris continued, stating that bone fragments, cartilege and plastic were sometimes found in McDonald's meat products, and a company witness had admitted that this increase the risk of undercooking in parts of the product. Also noted was the evidence that various stores had continued to serve food when the premises were flooded with sewage - this, he said, showed the disregard for food safety and hygiene in the obsession with keeping the profits flowing.

In conclusion Mr Morris said that McDonald's have had to recognise that the risk of food poisoning is a serious one. On top of this, food safety was further undermined by (a) the use of additives which had been shown to the court to be harmful (such as potassium bromate flour-improver used in McDonald's buns throughout the 1980s but now banned as a carcinogen), and by (b) residues in meat of antibiotics, pesticides and hormonal growth promotors.

The day's proceedings were adjourned shortly after lunch with Ms Steel due to take over the reins tomorrow.


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 by volunteers.
See also: The report for the previous day
and, for summaries of all the key evidence given during the trial;
Trial News 1, Trial News 2, and Trial News 3