- McDonald's -

McSpotlight is here for the public.

Posted by: Rex ( McSpotlight., UK ) on October 25, 1999 at 13:12:47:

In Reply to: Perhaps you ought to target the public. posted by James on October 25, 1999 at 11:28:12:

: But MUCH of your criticism was in fact thrown out by the Judge in the libel case, as he said: "In my view, the unjustified allegations of blame for starvation in the Third World, and destruction of rainforest, and of knowingly selling food with a serious risk of damaging their customers' health, are particularly damaging to the Plaintiffs' reputations. The allegation of lying about their use of recycled paper is serious because of the element of deception."

He ruled the above unproven, not false. According to the UK libel laws, a libel defendant has to prove that their alleged libel is in fact truth; if they fail to prove this, the allegation is ruled unproven, as the above were.

You can freely accuse a company of lying and be telling the truth in doing so, but if the judge rules that your proof is not sufficiently solid, the allegation remains unrpoven and is thus classed as libel, despite also being true. So, for example, you could claim that the late Stephen Milligan MP was fond of unusual sexual practices; however, you cannot prove that, so the claim is libellous; despite the manner of his death.

When the charge is a vague one, the degree of proof you can obtain is directly dependant on the funds you can raise to support your case; and there is no Legal Aid for libel in the UK. As such, any trial between a multibillion dollar corporate and a couple of unemployed people is necessarily skewed vastly in favour of the corporate. The McLibel Two simply couldn't afford to bring witnesses over from Brazil to testify to McDonald's involvement in rainforest destruction; McDonald's could afford good lawyers; and thus the conclusion was pretty much foregone.

It's worth noting the three points above you mentioned.

For the first charge, that of starvation, the judge could not have found in the favour of the McLibel Two without condemning the entire capitalist system of which he was a part; yet it is accepted that Western agrobusiness is in fact starving the Third World; witness the efforts of Jubilee 2000 and similar groups to stop the First World using the capitalist system to exploit the Third World.

Secondly, that of rainforest destruction. The defendants managed to field 15 expert witnesses who testified to McDonald's involvement in rainforest destruction including public figures like Charles Secrett (director, Friends of the Earth), George Monbiot (journalist, the Guardian and other pubs.) and Dr. Sue Branford; you can find their witness statements here.

To quote Dr. Branford in an interview we did with her;

"Well, I actually think McDonald's are lying. I think it's virtually impossible for a beefburger producer in Brazil to be operating without buying some beef which comes from areas of Brazil which have been involved in serious environmental damage."

If you examine the judgement, you will see that the judge ruled that McDonald's were not involved in rainforest destruction; they were involved in the destruction of "dry tropical forest"; the trees destroyed had leaves too small to be real rainforest and the rainfall levels were slightly lower than "rainforest" per se. To quote Justice Bell;

"In my JUDGEMENT "rainforest" in the context of this leaflet, not otherwise defined, must mean more than tropical forest of any kind. After all, the leaflet could have said simply "tropical forest" throughout, but it did not. In my view "rainforest" would mean something special to the ordinary reader. In my view it would mean luxuriant, broad-leaved, evergreen, very wet, canopy forest - very wet because of very heavy rainfall - to the ordinary reader of this leaflet."

In actual fact, the ordinary reader is unaware of the finer distinctions in forest climate in South America; as far as they're concerned, northern South America is all rainforests. The average person is not a botanist and this leaflet was aimed at the average person; so it referred to the South American forest as a single entity. If it was a scientific paper, this would be unacceptable; however, this was a leaflet rather than a 2000-page treatise.

Thirdly, the issue of health; let's check what Lord Justices Pill, May and Keane said in the appeal judgement;

"...if one eats enough McDonald's food, one's diet may well become high in fat etc., with the very real risk of heart disease...(this allegation)...'must have a serious effect on their trading reputation since it goes to the very business in which they are engaged. In our judgment, it must have a greater impact on the respondents' [McDonald's] reputation than any other of the charges that the trial judge had found to be true'."(page 264)


"'that there is a respectable (not cranky) body of medical opinion which links a junk food diet with a risk of cancer and heart disease', that 'this link was accepted both in literature published by McDonald's themselves and by one or more of McDonald's own experts and in medical publications of high repute', and that therefore 'that should have been an end of this part of the case'(page 169)"

This goes alongside Justice Bell's finding that "various of McDonald's
advertisements, promotions and booklets have pretended to a positive
nutritional benefit which their food (high in fat & salt etc) did not

As for the recycling part, go to the Great McQuotes page;

McDonald's distributed 'McFact' cards nationwide for several years publicising a scheme to recycle polystyrene waste from stores in Nottingham, where customers were asked to put polystyrene packaging into a separate bin, "for recycling into such things as plant pots and coat hangers". Ed Oakley (Chief Purchasing Officer for McDonald's UK) admitted that the company had not recycled any of the waste and in fact the polystyrene was "dumped". Is that the action of an environmentally-responsible business?

: And the Judge’s finding was not wholly supportive since he says "... an element of justification in relation to the Plaintiffs' advertising, their responsibility for some cruelty towards some of the animals which are reared and slaughtered for their products, and the Second Plaintiffs' low pay. Although the Plaintiffs succeeded on other elements of the defamatory charges relating to their employment practices, the evidence did disclose unsatisfactory aspects of their working conditions." He doesn’t say they were FULLY justified. He goes on: "The important charges of deception made against the Plaintiffs in the leaflet have not been justified, but some of the Plaintiffs' publicity material has been shown to be misleading."

Again, unproven - not false.

See also the appeal judgement;

"... it was fair comment to say that McDonald's employees worldwide 'do badly in terms of pay and conditions'."(page 247)

: : Witness the fact that McDonaldland adverts pretend that hamburgers come from a hamburger patch; rather than being part of a dead animal; because dead animals are mediapathic.

: Two points:
: First, I think virtually all fast food is inherently unhealthy and no one would promote it as a regular diet (No fruit, few vegetables, imbalanced intake of nutrients, etc.)

Quite correct. We are against all unhealthy fast food; it's just that McDonald's chose to sue rather than ignore the criticism. If Burger King had done the same, it could very well be them that this site attacked.

However, McDonald's do promote it as "part of a balanced diet"; that is, you can eat it and it won't kill you providing you eat other stuff. This is light years away from the public perception of "nutritious"; a fact McDonald's recognized in an internal company memo in 1986;

"McDonald's should attempt to deflect the basic negative thrust of our critics.....How do we do this? By talking 'moderation and balance'. We can't really address or defend nutrition. We don't sell nutrition and people don't come to McDonald's for nutrition".

David Green (Senior VP Marketing, McDonald's USA) stood up in court and testified that Coke was nutritious because it is "providing water, and I think that is part of a balanced diet". You can apply this reasoning to any substance which contains water and doesn't actually kill you if you try to eat it; trees, rocks, icebergs, clouds; none of which are conventionally accepted as "nutritious".

McDonald's company adverts at the time of the writing of the What's Wrong With McDonald's leaflet ran "everytime you eat at McDonald's you will be eating good, nutritious food...". If that isn't deceptive, what is?

Furthermore, McDonald's specifically target a class of customers they call "SHUs"; that is, "Super Heavy Users"; typically those who eat at McDonald's 4 times a week or more.

85 to 95% of Americans are claimed to have visited McDonald's once or more in any year. But 77% of customer visits to McDonald's US stores (i.e. 3 out of 4 people who walk in the door) are from people who eat there on average 3 times a week ('heavy users'). 11% of visits are from 'Super Heavy Users', who eat there 4 or more times per week [Testimony of David Green, 1994]

When you run time-limited promotions and aim them at kids, you get kids trying to go to McDonald's as much as possible to collect the toys they want; it's how the super-heavy users are recruited, as going to McDonald's many times a week becomes normal practice to them.

: Nevertheless, if you’re going to eat the stuff McD’s is better than most. The traditional British High Street Chippie’s products must surely be even worse. Here in Scotland we’re renowned for having the unhealthiest diet in the UK (and perhaps the world), and there were no McD’s here at all until less than 10 years ago. No McD’s, no McD’s adverts, and the food retailers didn’t have big promotions to snare the poor unsuspecting public into buying their lousy products. It was just plain poor nutrition. Why? Because that’s what the people seemed to want and buy. Recently, some Chippie here was selling deep-fried Mars Bars! Perhaps you ought to target the public.

A Big Mac contains twice the recommended daily maximum amount of dioxin (the poison that recently sparked a food scare in Belgium) as a result of background levels of dioxin collecting in the tissues of livestock.

We do target the public, basically. That's why McSpotlight exists. If we thought that educating McDonald's would do any good, we'd target them too. As such, we exist as a public forum for the public to find out about stuff that McDonald's would have done their best to censor before the McLibel trial.

: Second:
: Children are susceptible to persuasive advertising; but I rather doubt they are quite as gullible as you seem to imagine. As if they really believed this nonsense; and Cabbage Patch Dolls came from cabbage patches. Children should learn at a very early age not to trust advertising, and they seem to do so.

Check out the witness testimonies of the six expert witnesses on advertising, Sue Dibb testified that;

- (regarding a survey of eight-year olds) "Tony the Tiger (Frosties) and Ronald McDonald (McDonalds) were more popular than the child's father, their teacher or their grandparents, in response to the question: 'Who would you like to take you out for a treat?"

- the higher the viewing for particular adverts, the greater the children's requests for those products.

- two-thirds of children who asked their parents for advertised
products were granted their requests.

- characters used in advertising are very important to children. While young children may not be able to fully distinguish between programmes and adverts, four year olds have been shown to be brand conscious and able to correlate characters with brand products.

McDonald's are fully awareof this; they have commented that;

"Children are virgin ground as far as marketing is concerned" (in the trial)


"Ronald loves McDonald's and McDonald's food. And so do children, because they love Ronald. Remember, children exert a phenomenal influence when it comes to restaurant selection. This means you should do everything you can to appeal to children's love for Ronald and McDonald's."(taken from the McDonald's Operations Manual.)

: Lots of advertised products soon show that they cannot live up to the advertising that sold them, and this quickly disabuses children from believing all they see, hear or read in adverts. More importantly, parents should teach their children some commercial sensibility and should not allow purchasing decisions simply to be dictated by the whims of their children. Do that, and you’ll never get any relief, and the kids will be spoilt rotten.

There's a great big divide between "what should be" and "what is"; and McDonald's are taking advantage of the reality of the situation to maximise their profits. As Justice Bell found;

"...the sting of the leaflet to the effect that the Plaintiffs exploit children by using them, as more susceptible subjects of advertising, to pressurise their parents into going to McDonald's is justified. It is true."

: Again, if the farmers and meat processing industry follow unsatisfactory practices you really ought to focus on them and the Government regulators concerned. McD’s may be the single biggest customer but they’re still small in context. How much British Beef do they buy? The large supermarket chains surely outclass them.

They don't. McDonald's is the single largest buyer of meat and poultry in the UK.

Furthermore, a UK 'McFact' card states: "every consignment of beef arriving at the [McKeys] meat plant is subject to a total of 36 quality control checks, carried out by a team of qualified technologists. If a consignment should fail on any one check, it will be rejected by McDonald's." All the raw beef consignments are microbiologically tested, and categorised as 'satisfactory', 'passable', and 'unsatisfactory'. David Walker (Chairman of McKeys, the sole supplier of the company's UK hamburgers) stated in court that 'unsatisfactory' relates to beef which has a total colony of more than 10 million bacteria per gram. He then admitted that such consignments are, in fact, not rejected and are used for McDonald's burgers.

: Where does this logic end? If Z buys from Y that buys from X that buys ...... from A where does the line get drawn? Are you going to end up targeting McD’s customers? The customer’s employers and families? I don’t think so ... but if some one or some company is directly responsible for mistreating animals then they should be your targets— after all, if McD’s did go elsewhere there would be multitudes of customers left for those products. Isn’t that right? Better regulation and control would be a universal solution and more desirable than one company's localized efforts. Its easier to target McD's that are in the local British High St./ US Main St. than to go after regulators and legislators isn't it.

We don't believe in top-down solutions. Firstly, if the UK government passed laws restricting McDonald's practices, then McDonald's can complain to an international WTO tribunal and take the UK government to court for interfering with the market; in much the same way that they did with the Carribbean banana tarde and BGH-boosted beef; the UK government would then be forced to drop their legislation or face economic sanctions equal to the estimated loss of earnings. In certain ways, McDonald's wields more economic clout than the UK government. A government's hands are tied; and we do not believe in governments doing the peoples' job; it is a matter of personal conscience and discernment whether you support McDonald's practices or not. The best place to hit a capitalist company is in the wallet and that is done by the ordinary person, not the government.

Rex, McSpotlight.

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