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02/05/01 . AP & Kiro 7 Eyewitness News . SeattleInsider.com . USA
Lawsuit says McDonald's Uses Beef Fat in French Fries
McDonald's has been accused in a lawsuit of using beef fat in the preparation of french fries while claiming they are vegetarian.
The lawsuit for unspecified damages was filed on behalf of two Hindus and one non-Hindu vegetarian Tuesday in King County Superior Court by Harish Bharti, who said he believes the case is the first of its kind in the United States.
He asked that the case be certified as a class action on behalf of any vegetarian who ate McDonald's fries after 1990 in the belief that they contained no meat.
The lawsuit says McDonald's "intentionally failed to publicly disclose its continued use of beef tallow in the (french fry) cooking process under the guise of 'natural flavor."'
McDonald's released a statement Tuesday saying it has never claimed the fries it sells in the United States are vegetarian. The statement also said the recipe for the fries uses a "a miniscule trace of beef flavoring, not tallow."
Tallow is essentially shortening made from beef fat. What McDonald's does is add a small amount of beef extract to the water while the potatoes are being cooked, the statement said.
In India and in predominantly Islamic countries where people do not eat meat for religious reasons, McDonald's uses no beef or pork flavorings in vegetarian menu items, the statement said.
Company spokeswoman Kim Bayer said McDonald's had not yet seen the lawsuit and could not comment on it further. Bayer said she knew of no similar claims being filed against the company.
The case arose from the concerns of Hindus, who refrain from eating beef, Bharti said.
McDonald's announced in 1990 that the fast-food chain would no longer use beef fat in making french fries and that only pure vegetable oil would be used.
However, in the book "Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal," Eric Schlosser wrote that McDonald's could still be using tallow while listing the ingredient as "natural flavor."
According to an e-mail printed in the American newspaper India-West on April 6 and cited by Bharti, that scenario was confirmed by Megan Magee, an employee in McDonald's customer satisfaction department.
The lawsuit says that Magee replied to an inquiry by Hitesh Shah, a vegetarian, on March 28, saying, "For flavor enhancement, McDonald's french fry suppliers use a minuscule amount of beef flavoring as an ingredient in the raw product."
The e-mail went on to say that the beef is among the "natural flavors" listed as ingredients.
"We're sorry if this has caused any confusion," Magee wrote.
"This is pretty outrageous behavior," Bharti said. "Hindus and vegetarians
all over the world feel shocked and betrayed by McDonald's deception and