The Hon. Mr Justice Bell
SUMMARY OF THE JUDGEMENT
After the subject of animals, the leaflet turns to food poisoning.
In my JUDGEMENT, the defamatory message and meaning of the leaflet is that the First and Second Plaintiffs sell meat products which, as they must know, expose their customers including children, to whom they promote their meals, to a serious risk of food poisoning and of poisoning by the residues of antibiotic drugs, growth-promoting hormone drugs and pesticides, although the Plaintiffs only complained about the risk of food poisoning.
The message is expressed as an allegation of fact. There is no comment.
No other kind of poisoning is referred to in the leaflet, but the Defendants sought to rely on other matters which were not in my view relevant to the allegation of risk of poisoning as expressed in the leaflet.
I do not consider that the words complained of in this part of the case can be taken to refer to any risk of degenerative disease. No ordinary reader of the leaflet, in my view, would think of the high fat or high sodium or low fibre content, for instance, of food as "poisonous", even if it led to a risk of degenerative disease.
On 7th February 1995, I ruled that there was nothing in the leaflet which could be sensibly taken as a reference to bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), however interesting it may have become since the leaflet was written.
The Defendants pleaded that McDonald's food products contained specified additives which were known to have specified, undesirable side-effects, and I heard evidence on the topic. If it was necessary to decide the point I would unhesitatingly find in the Plaintiffs' favour on the issues relating to additives, but I do not consider that additives have any relevance to any issue in the case. There is no mention of them in the box which deals with food poisoning and drug and pesticide residues. The only part of the leaflet which could be taken to be a reference to food additives is the reference to McDonald's alleged use of chemicals to achieve conformity of product, and this does not suggest any risk to health as a result.
The Defendants called evidence that styrene could be leeched from polystyrene foam packaging or cups into the food or drink which they contained, and then pass into human tissue where its metabolites could be carcinogenic. I preferred the Plaintiffs' evidence that there is a lack of evidence that styrene is carcinogenic in humans and that the maximum contamination from food containers would lead to mean intakes which were hundreds of thousands of times lower than some industrial exposures which have not caused a demonstrable increase in cancer incidence. Again, however, I do not consider that styrene has any part in the case so far as health is concerned. The leaflet does not raise it as a possible cause of cancer, although it deals with certain cancers, and it does not raise it as a cause of poisoning.
The Defendants introduced evidence that from time to time foreign bodies, in which they included small bits of bone, were found in McDonald's food products, but there was no evidence that anyone had been poisoned or harmed at all by these.
It follows from all this that the one real issue in this part of the case is whether it has been shown that eating McDonald's food involves a serious risk of food poisoning or poisoning by residues of antibiotic drugs, growth promoting drugs or pesticides.
There is no sensible room for complacency about food safety, but it is a fact of life that it is impossible to eliminate all contamination by food poisoning organisms and it is impossible to test every item of food to see whether food poisoning organisms are present. However good hygiene systems are, there will always be human errors.
So those who want to will always be able to point to areas of risk in any food seller's chain of supply from live animal to customer.
However, it is unsound in my JUDGEMENT to look at the number of risk areas at various stages and say that since they are numerous the accumulated risk must be very real or serious. Such an approach takes no account of the fact that the world in which we live abounds in micro-organisms including food-poisoning organisms to which we have built up many and varied defences with the result that, as the Defendants' main witness on the subject said "you have to work very hard to get food poisoning". Assessment of the ultimate risk must take proper account of that fact as well as making some broad JUDGEMENT of the degree of risk involved in contamination, proliferation or failure to kill throughout the particular chain of supply.
My JUDGEMENT on all the evidence which I have heard is that the risk of food poisoning from eating McDonald's food is minimal. From time to time people will no doubt get food poisoning from eating McDonald's foods but the risk is very small indeed.
There was no evidence that antibiotic or growth promoting hormone drug residues have actually been found in McDonald's food.
There was no evidence that pesticide residues have actually been found in McDonald's food.
There was no suggestion, let alone any evidence, that any McDonald's customer anywhere had been shown to have been harmed by residues of antibiotic drugs, growth promoting hormone drugs or pesticides.
With all these matters in mind I find that the message and meaning of the leaflet that the First and Second Plaintiffs sell meat products which, as they must know, expose their customers, to whom they promote their meals, to a serious risk of food poisoning and poisoning by the residues of antibiotic drugs, growth-promoting hormone drugs and pesticides, is not justified. It is not true.