FAST FOOD from McDonald's can be part of a healthy balanced diet, Paul Preston, UK chief executive of the US company, told the High Court in London yesterday.
McDonald's is suing for libel over a leaflet that claimed the company's food caused cancer, heart disease, Third World famine and the destruction of the rainforests. McDonald's claims the leaflet was published in 1989 by London Greenpeace, in which the two defendants, Helen Steel and Dave Morris, were "leading lights". London Greenpeace has no connection with Greenpeace International.
Mr Preston said he ate the company's food "four or five" times a week. He added that he regularly fed his two daughters McDonald's food.
Ms Steel and Mr Morris, who are conducting their own defence because they cannot afford to pay legal fees, deny writing, publishing or distributing the leaflet. They do, however, claim the information contained in it is true and a fair comment on the company's activities.
In court, Mr Preston claimed McDonald's sought wherever possible to provide nutritional advice to the public. He said: "I accept that people should balance their diet. It's part of a lifestyle. McDonald's can play a part." He said he did not believe McDonald's food could provide "everything you need to survive on this earth".
Ms Steel said McDonald's food was high in fat, sugar and salt, and low in fibre, vitamins and minerals. she said: "There is a considerable amount of evidence to suggest that many of the diseases which are more common in the Western, affluent world - diseases such as obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, strokes and some forms of cancer - are related to diet. The typical Western diet is low in dietary fibre roughage and high in fat, salt and sugar."
The couple also claim that McDonald's policy on food packaging damages the global environment, causes litter and wastes the Earth's resources. The company claims that using packaging is more environmentally friendly than plates and cutlery.
Ms Steel also quizzed Mr Preston on the activities of two private detective agencies hired by the company to find out the identity of the publishers of the leaflet. "Did you instruct them to steal letters from the Greenpeace office?" she asked.
Mr Preston said: "I don't instruct people to steal. I don't sanction stealing."
The case continues today.