The Vegetarian Society publishes an interview with Morrissey on Green Zine - he links McD with rainforest destruction. The ensuing libel threat forces the magazine to apoligise.
Barlow Lyde & Gilbert
Our ref. 8.34/PB-C 1342-457
2nd February 1990.
The Vegetarian Society,
We are instructed by the McDonald's Corporation of Oakbrook in Illinois, U.S.A. who also run the McDonald's Restaurant chain in the U.S.A. and elsewhere in the world, and by McDonald's Restaurants Limited, the company which runs McDonald's retaurants situated in the United Kingdom.
Our Clients have drawn to our attention an article which appeared in the 6th issue of your magazine. This is an interview with Morrissey, formerly of 'The Smiths'. Enclosed is a copy of the article.
As you can see, this makes a number of specific allegations against our Clients, and the whole is offensive in tone. McDonald's vigorously deny, as they have done repeatedly and successfully in the past, all the defamatory claims made against them. However, at present they are particularly concerned by the references to their destruction of tropical rainforests. The passage complained of reads as follows:
This inference is wholly without foundation, and is a gross defamation of our Clients, whose support for the conservation of wildlife and natural resources throughout the world is a major part of their business philosophy.
- "How do you think we can combat such a massive organisation?"
- Tell them the truth behind the facade of Ronald McDonald....tell them about the destruction of rainforests for burgers."
As to the tropical rain forests, the research and reputation of the World Wildlife Fund of C.H. 1196 Gland, Switzerland on this subject is well known.
A principal contributor to their research is Norman Myers PhD of Upper Meadow Road, Headington Oxford. Until May 1983 Mr. Myers had made the same erroneous assumptions. This came to our Clients' attention as a result of a remark made to George A. Cohon the President of McDonald's Restaurants of Canada Limited, by the President of theWorld Wildlife Fund, His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh. Following that comment our Clients brought to Mr. Myers' attention the fact that neither the U.S., Canadian companies nor any other McDonald's company uses meat which comes from attle reared in former rainforest areas.
It is clear from the attached copy letter from the Duke of Edinburgh to Mr. Cohon dated 27th June 1983 that Mr. Myers and the World Wildlife Fund were satisfied that our Clients were exonerated from any implication in the destruction of rain forests. Our Clients policy has not changed once since that date and it is now incorporated into the enclosed policy statement.
The same defamatory allegations were broadcast in a BBC2 programme on 26th April 1984. Following complaint from ourselves on behalf of our Clients the BBC broadcast a full apology. Similar allegations were also made by the Indepedent magazine in their issues of 5th and 12th November 1988 and by the Sunday Correspondent on Sunday 15th October 1989 which, following complaint by ourselves, were retracted in full. We enclose a copy of the apologies which our Clients received.
The other concerning feature about the news programmes transmitted by you are that they purported to reflect disquiet about the activities of animal liberation activists such as the Manchester Animal Protection Group and yet, by sending cameramen to record the demonstration, they encouraged the disruption and the dissemination of a gross libel.
However, we have advised our Clients that the passage set out above is defamatroy [their spelling] and gives them an undoubted right to issue proceedings against you for damages, payment of their legal costs and a final injunction prohibiting the repetion of these defamatory allegations.
Our Clients have indicated that they will not issue proceedings if they hear from you within the next seven days to the effect that:
We hope that this matter can be settled on a positive basis such as that set out above, and look forward to hearing from you .
- that the magazine will publish an apology retracting the defamatory allegations and apologising unreservedly to our Clients, the apology to be approved by our Clients prior to publication;
- that you will confirm that the same or similar defamatory remarks will not be made in the future;
- that our Clients legal costs will be paid on an indemnity basis.
Barlow Lyde & Gilbert.
The Vegetarian Society of the United Kingdom Ltd.
Ref: JG/ldf (9)
Mr Paul Preston Esq
14 February 1990
President & Chief Executive Officer
McDonalds Hamburgers Limited
11-59 High Road
Dear Mr Preston
We are writing to you to reply to a letter dated 2 February 1990 from your
solicitors, Messrs Barlow Lyde and Gilbert, relating to an interview published
in Greenscene, Issue 6. We are an incorporated charity of very limited resources.
Our publication "Greenscene" is a low circulation magazine produced
principally for educational purposes and not for profit. In this context
we feel that your response is ill-considered and vastly disproportionate
to the alleged defamation and we believe that a less aggressive approach
would have been more productive. Subject to these observations, however,
we are anxious that this matter should be resolved to the satisfaction of all the partes concerned as soon as possible and we are obviously keen
to avoid incurring any unnecessary legal costs.
In the interests of truth and informed debate we wish to ensure that anything
we publish can be substantiated and does not in any way misinform our readers.
Similarly we have no desire to publish criticisms of a company in respect
of its policy and practices which it not only does not condone but which
it actually condemns namely the utilisation of recently cleared rainforest
to graze animals to use in the production of hamburgers. We therefore believe
that you would have no objection to an open public debate taking place in
Greenscene comprising the publication of the letter from your solicitors,
your Corporate Policy statement and the following questions together with
- When was this policy statement made?
- Before the current policy statement was issued, what was McDonalds policy
(if any) on this subject?
- With reference to the first sentence of the statement:
- Do McDonalds use 100% recycled paper?
- Is any of their packaging petrochemically based (eg burger and drink
- Do McDonalds recover and recycle any of their materials?
- Are all McDonalds' ingredients, including salads and drinks, free from pesticides, fungicides, herbicides, chemical fertilizers and food additives?
- In the same context we would like to know:
- Does McDonalds claim to produce animal protein using fewer natural resources than would be required for the production of an equivalent amount
of plant protein?
- Does McDonalds claim to be able to prevent or reduce the emission of methane from live cattle into the atmosphere? Methane is a major contributory factor to the greenhouse effect.
- How does McDonalds ensure the safe disposal of slurry produced by the cattle used for their burgers? (According to scientists such as Dr J G M Roelefs, Agricutural University Wageninging, Holland, and Professor
Konrad Buchwald, Marine Biologist and The Naure and The Environment Foundation, slurry is a major contributory factor to acid rain and pollution of ground water and the oceans).
- With reference to the second sentence of the statement, does McDonalds own any restaurants in Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Columbia, Venezuala, Guyana, Surinam, French Guiana, Ecuador, Peru, Brazil, Bolivia, Paraguay, Uruguay, Argentina or Chile?
If so, where does McDonalds produce or acquire the meat used in the burgers sold in these countries?
- Does McDonalds own any restaurants in any country other than those mentioned
above that has rainforest? If so where does McDonalds produce or acquire the meat used in the burgers sold in those countries?
- With reference to the third sentence of the statement, who are McDonalds' other approved suppliers, and where are they based?
- With reference to the fourth sentence of the statement, does McDonalds use cleared rainforest for beef production, when the land has been deforested for purposes other than beef production within the last fifty years?
- With reference to the fifth sentence of the statement, how does McDonalds define "recent"; for example one week, month, year or longer?
- With reference to the sixth sentence of the statement, how is the policy enforced and monitored?
- With reference to the last sentence, given that so much of the policy statement is open to interpretation, how do McDonalds' suppliers comply with it?
Do McDonalds provide their meat producers with detailed guidelines and if so could we please have a copy?
We are satisfied that as McDonalds appears to be confident of its case as to threaten proceedings, they will welcome this opportunity for an open and public discussion.
If the answers given by McDonalds to all of the above questions satisfy us that the allegation was inaccurate, we will print an apology in agreed form as requested.
With regard to the question of costs, we have enquired as to the likely amount of your legal costs and have been informed that they will be between £250 and £500 plus VAT. We fail to see how this amount can be justified by your solicitors as the letter written to us has clearly been adapted from a letter written previously in respect of a different matter. You will note, that the penultimate paragraph on page 2 on the letter does not apply to us, as we did not transmit a news programme!
We have sent a copy of this letter to Messrs Barlow Lyde and Gilbert and look forward to receiving replies to our questions at the earliest opportunity, so that this matter may be resolved.
Pat McGlashan (Ms)
Juliet Gellatley (Ms)
Editor - Greenscene
Barlow Lyde & Gilbert
Your ref. JG/ldf(9)
Ms Pat McGlashan and Ms Juliet Gallatley,
Our ref. 8.34/PB-C 1342-457
28th February 1990.
The Vegetarian Society,
Dear Ms McGlashan and Ms Gellatley,
We are writing in response to your letter of 14th February addressed to
In your Sixth Edition of Greenscene our Clients were described as "a violently destructive industry....if you opened a chain of shops which murdered children and fried them in deep fat would you prosper."
The article continues, "tell them the truth behind the facade of Ronald McDonald's. Tell them about the animals thrashing as their throats are cut.
Tell them about the destruction of the rainforests."
These are serious and grossly offensive allegations which warranted the most serious response. Neither we nor, we suggest, anyone reading the article could agree that our letter was vastly disproportionate to the alleged defamation.
Our Clients are not perturbed to answer the questions you raise or the prospect of entering into an open debate. However in view of the seriousness of the allegations they insist that you agree to the three points raised in our letter of 2nd February 1990 to avoid the issue of proceedings.
To assist you in satisfying yourself of the accuracy of what we have said we are at this stage prepared to answer those questions relating to rainforest destruction.
- The Policy Statement was issued in May 1989.
- The Statement merely encapsulated in written form long established policies strictly adopted and monitored by our Clients. There was no change of policy.
- McDonald's owns 19 restaurants in Central America in many of the countries mentioned.
- (no answer )
- Because they operate a worldwide local sourcing policy the restaurants situated in all rainforest countries throughout the world will purchase beef from local suppliers, all of whom have confirmed in writing that the beef supplied to each of the restarants in those countries comes from cattle raised on long established ranches outside the rainforest areas.
- In countries where standards do not meet the high specifications laid down by McDonald's or where it is not economically viable to use local suppliers, meat is imported from recognised and approved McDonald's suppliers in the nearest countries, all of whom are under the same obligation not to use cattle from rainforest land.
- A significant number of years.
- and 11.
McDonald's International Beef Pattie Specification, which is a long complex document personal and confidential to our Clients, states that "cattle raised from rainforest or recently deforested rainforest land are prohibted as a raw material source." This specification is signed by each supplier
in each country and guarantees full compliance with this specification.
If any supplier is found to breach the provision prohibiting the use of rainforest beef or cannot prove ompliance with it any further dealings with him will be terminated forthwith. The policy is monitored through quality assurance control and personnel checks which are rigourous and routinely undertaken.
As we have stated once this matter is settled to our Client's satisfaction they will consider addressing the other issues. we look forward to hearing from you.
Barlow Lyde and Gilbert