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04/05/01 . NIRMALA GEORGE . Associated Press . NEW DELHI, India
Hindu Group Vandalizes McDonald's
A Hindu fundamentalist group on Friday vandalized a McDonald's restaurant in a Bombay suburb to protest against the alleged use of beef flavoring in the chain's French fries in the United States, police said.
Restaurant customers fled, as members of the Bajrang Dal charged into the restaurant in Thane, a northeastern Bombay suburb, and smashed furniture and ceiling lights.
There were no reports of injuries, police said.
McDonald's Corp. says it does not use any animal extracts in its French fries in India, where the cow is considered sacred by most Hindus.
In southern Bombay on Friday, a McDonald's store was surrounded by demonstrators from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, who shouted slogans and smeared cow dung on the restaurant's mascot.
The Shiv Sena, another Hindu group, had said it would protest outside the corporate office of McDonald's in India on Saturday after front-page newspaper reports of a lawsuit filed in the United States. An Indian-American lawyer accused McDonald's of using beef fat in the preparation of French fries more than a decade after it said it would cook its fries in vegetable oil.
The lawsuit for unspecified damages was filed on behalf of two Hindus who don't eat meat and one non-Hindu vegetarian Tuesday in King County Superior Court, in Seattle.
Most of India's Hindus - 85 percent of the population - are vegetarians, although with urbanization and migration more Indians are becoming meat eaters.
After news reports about the court case, McDonald's India issued a brief statement: "McDonald's India categorically states that French fries that we serve in India do not contain any beef or animal extracts, of whatsoever kind.
"Right from the processing stage until it is cooked and served to the customer, we only use 100 percent vegetable oil in India," the statement said.
Jai Bhagwan Goyal, the local head of Shiv Sena, was skeptical of the McDonald's assurance, saying the company had made similar promises in the United States 10 years ago, but continued to use beef flavoring in French fries.
"How do we know what they are serving in India? We can't take them at their word," said Goyal.
The Oak Brook, Ill.-based McDonald's Corp. announced in 1990 that its restaurants would no longer use beef fat in making French fries and that only pure vegetable oil would be used.
The fast-food chain released a statement Wednesday saying it has never claimed the fries it sells in the United States are vegetarian. The statement said the recipe for the fries uses a "a minuscule trace of beef flavoring, not tallow."
Tallow is essentially shortening made from beef fat. McDonald's adds a
small amount of beef extract while the potatoes are being cooked, it said. McDonald's India, which opened its first restaurant in India in October 1996, now has 28 outlets in New Delhi, Bombay, Pune, Jaipur and on the Delhi-Agra highway.