THE McDonald's fast food chain, like Robert Maxwell, used legal threats to bully critics into silence, two radical environmentalists told the High Court yesterday.
"After Maxwell's death, it was shown that his critics were right all along," said Helen Steel, one of the two defendants being sued for libel. "We intend to show that the public face of McDonald's is a fraud, and that the truth that lies behind their image is far from savoury."
Ms Steel and Dave Morris, who are defending themselves, were outlining their defence on the second day of a trial that is expected to last three months.
The British subsidiary of the world's largest fast food chain is suing them for publishing a leaflet which accuses McDonald's of serving dangerous food, cruelty to farm animals, exploiting staff and discouraging them from joining trade unions, using beef from cattle reared on destroyed rainforest land and contributing to Third World hunger and poverty.
Ms Steel, 28, and Mr Morris, 39, deny writing, publishing or distributing the 1989 leaflet, which carried, next to the logo, the words "McCancer, McDisease, McHunger, McDeath". They say its contents were true or fair comment. They have launched a libel action against the chain after it distributed leaflets and a press release denouncing the leaflet. Ms Steel said: "As far as we're concerned, McDonald's should be apologising."
Yesterday, the defendants, said they had evidence that McDonald's had sometimes used beef from cattle reared on pastureland where rainforests had been destroyed. They showed a clip from a Channel 4 documentary, Jungleburger, in which an employee at a Costa Rica meat exporting co-operative said some of its beef went to McDonald's in the United States.
The company's own documents supported the assertion that its food was high in fat, sugar and salt, which was linked by health education bodies with cancer, Ms Steel said. People who ate at McDonald's more than once a week, including staff, ran a "significant risk" that their health would suffer in the long term.
The case continues today.