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July 2002 . by Lee Hall . Friends of Animals quarterly magazine, ActionLine, Autumn 2002 issue . USA  
Some Thoughts on Giving Burger King the Business  
Burger King. Try chewing the name slowly.  

Burger: commonly refers to ground and broiled animal flesh. King: a person identified as male who ultimately owns all the property of his subjects and owns everybody’s allegiance as well.

Strangely enough, a lot of people in the animal protection movement seem drawn, of late, to pledge allegiance to the Monarch of Meat. This year, the King decided to offer a product he calls the “BK Veggie Burger.” There it is, sizzling on the grill together with meat, unless the consumer prevails upon the King’s employee to heat in it a microwave oven.

The product comes with an egg-based dressing. The bread contains butter.

Nevertheless, some animal protection groups -- groups who acknowledge, mind you, that the “veggie” item contains animal products -- now urge us to march straight into our local Burger King and open our wallets. When the website for the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals opened its “BK Veggie Art Contest,” Priscilla Feral, President of Friends of Animals, publicly expressed dismay that an animal protection group would mimic the sly and oft-criticized tactics of major fast-food companies: getting parents to frequent burger restaurants by enticing their children.[1] PeTA’s contest invitation tells us that “all entries are welcome” as long as the artist is 18 or younger. As Friends of Animals stated, this attracts children to act as little advertisers, as they “design an eye-catching advertisement” for the multinational giant by drawing on a Burger King wrapper.

The Tradition of Vegetarianism: Perceiving Broad Social Issues

Of course, Friends of Animals is not the first group to blow this whistle and to advise conscientious people to steer clear of fast food advertising gimmicks. In February 2001, the London-based McLibel Support Campaign circulated a critique of a similar product, the McVeggie burger. “McDonald’s and Vegetarianism - Same Old Exploitation” explained:

“McDonalds’ always have been and always will be dedicated to the accumulation of profits for their shareholders - profits from the systematic mass exploitation of workers, from environmentally-destructive and anti-social agribusiness, the promotion of mass-produced and processed junk food (including meat products) wrapped in wasteful and damaging packaging materials, and the mass manipulation of people (including kids) through marketing.”

The leaflet noted that the corporation’s marketing strategy since the mid-1980s has attempted to diffuse criticisms “by trumpeting a few cosmetic changes to its menu or practices, and by ‘sponsoring’ or allying themselves with various high-profile events …relating to the environment, dietary health, litter, children etc.”[2] Helping to recast the massive global meat trade into a pillar of philanthropy is not the responsibility of ethical vegetarians; nor is it a realistic goal.

So Helen Steel – a trainee electrician and a gardener – resolved to educate the public about junk food. Incensed over the exposé, McDonald’s spent an estimated £10 million suing Helen Steel and her lone collaborator, busy single parent Dave Morris.[3] The Trial became the longest-running court drama in British history.[4] One might say that the vegetarian movement had arrived.

But Steel and Morris faced enormous vested interests. During their two hours of free legal counsel, they heard: with no money or legal experience you’ll have no chance against McDonald’s legal team, so send apologies for the campaign and back out while you’ve got the chance. Helen Steel reflected:

“It just really stuck in the throat to apologize to McDonald’s. I thought it was them that should have been apologizing to us - well not us specifically, but to society for the damage they do to society and the environment.”[5]

Although McDonald’s is the world’s largest promoter and user of beef, questions about the social and environmental effects of the company implicated more than just McDonald’s. By defending their educational mission, Steel and Morris took on the junk-food giants as a whole system, explaining that multinational companies which control food distribution also exploit workers, the world’s natural resources, and billions of animals. A page on their support group’s website, named “What’s Wrong with Burger King,” outlines findings of the Ethical Consumer Research Association regarding Burger King as well.[6]

Hidden Ingredients Exposed

Religious groups too have exposed the unethical conduct of the restaurant chains. Last year, a front-page headline in the Sunday New York Times announced: ”For Hindus and Vegetarians, Surprise in McDonald’s Fries.” Brij Sharma and other Hindus were horrified to learn that McDonald’s had regularly seasoned their potatoes with animal products. The company agreed to pay $10 million for the harm it caused.[7] For many vegetarians, this event confirmed what they’d know all along: multinationals cannot be trusted to attend to any serious matters except profit.

Additionally, our entire society must subsidize the health problems caused by fast food. Professor Verner Wheelock, McDonald’s expert witness in the McLibel case, admitted that a typical McDonald’s meal was high in saturated fat and sodium, and that cancer and heart disease were caused by a poor diet. Although Steel and Morris could not prove that McDonald’s directly caused cases of disease, the judge nonetheless concluded that people “who eat McDonald’s food several times a week will take the very real risk of heart disease if they continue to do so throughout their lives, encouraged by [McDonald’s] advertising.” The judge also noted that it is “strongly possible that it increases the risk to some extent” of bowel cancer. Other disturbing findings included E-coli outbreaks traced to the food; the presence of salmonella in 25% of the deboned chicken meat supplied to McDonald’s, and the presence of campylobacter on 70%. Sadly, this food has become especially prevalent in urban areas where many people do not have access to basic health care.

Most of the U.S. population is classified as overweight or obese, and hundreds of thousands of deaths each year are attributed to related illnesses. In a move that parallels tobacco health warnings, McDonald’s publicly warned French consumers not to eat too much of its food, and McDonald’s and Coca-cola now fund a multimillion dollar advertising campaign urging people in the U.S. to eat nutritious food.[8] Meanwhile, people have initiated lawsuits in New York and Florida claiming misleading advertising by companies selling processed foods with little nutritional value.

Awareness has grown about other aspects of the industry too. For example, protests at the Sydney 2000 Olympics against McDonald’s linked the industry’s massive use of refrigeration chemicals to global warming.[9] An international outcry has arisen over horrific working conditions in China in factories producing McDonald’s “happy meal” toys. [10] And the McLibel case itself produced a critique of the company’s exploitative advertisements to lure children, its disrespect for workers, its purchases of beef from rainforest regions, and its responsibility for animal cruelty. [11]

In a remarkable display of nerve, Ed Oakley of McDonald’s called the battery cages “pretty comfortable”.[12] In another of the case’s memorable moments, David Green, McDonald’s U.S. Senior Vice-President of Marketing, stated “McDonald’s food is nutritious”.[13] When asked what the company meant, Green explained that the food “provides nutrients and can be a part of a healthy balanced diet.” When asked if Coca Cola is “nutritious,” Green answered that it is “providing water, and I think that is part of a balanced diet.”

Creating New Conventions

Despite the defendants’side of the McLibel campaign being run on half a shoe-string from a bedroom office, it succeeded in ensuring that the private case arrived in the court of public opinion. McLibel defendants Helen Steel and Dave Morris have earned the support of vegetarians throughout the world. As vegetarians, it is our role to show people, as clearly as we can, what ethical vegetarianism is -- and to make the principle of non-violence conventional.

[1] (visited May - June 2002). The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals have offered rewards of Burger King meals at parties for children throughout this past summer.

[2] An example of McDonald’s cavalier attitude about these issues involves the ‘McFact’ cards distributed throughout Britain, announcing a plan to recycle in Nottingham, where customers were asked to put polystyrene packaging into a separate bin. Ed Oakley, Chief Purchasing Officer for McDonald’s in Britain, admitted that the company had not recycled the contents. Remarked Oakley, “I can see [the dumping of waste] to be a benefit, otherwise you will end up with lots of vast, empty gravel pits all over the country.” See (visited June 2002).

[3] Steel and Morris were sued for libel by the McDonald’s Corporation in 1990 for the distribution of London Greenpeace leaflets criticizing McDonald’s and multinational food corporations in general. See “McLibel: Do-It-Yourself Justice,” By Dave Morris and Helen Steel (visited June 2002). London Greenpeace was the first Greenpeace group in Europe, founded in 1971, and has always been separate from Greenpeace International, founded in 1977.

[4] Further information: (visited June 2002). It was the first of November, 1996 (court day 292), that McLibel entered the Guinness Book of Records, surpassing a 291-day trial decided in 1874. Michael Mansfield, Queen’s Counsel, stated: 'The McLibel case is The Trial of the century - it concerns the most important issues that any of us have to face, living our ordinary lives.'

[5] The Support Group’s site provides the information quoted throughout this article.

[6] See

[7] Herbert G. McCann, Associated Press, “McDonald's Apologizes for Fry Labeling,” 4 June 2002.

[8] Story reported by Claire Cozens, The Guardian (London), 14 June 2002.

[9] See McWorld on Trial, note 6.

[10] Ibid.

[11] See “McLibel: Do-It-Yourself Justice,” By Dave Morris and Helen Steel (visited June 2002). Sid Nicholson, McDonald’s UK Vice President, admitted that McDonald’s ‘couldn’t actually pay any lower wages without falling foul of the law’. Ibid. By the end of the case, Steel and Morris had won outright the sections on advertising, animals, effectively all of nutrition and employment short of a part of the final conclusion in each. Despite a great deal of evidence on the environmentally damaging effects of the production and disposal of mountains of McDonald’s disposable packaging, the customers, not McDonald’s, were considered the ones responsible for causing litter.

[12] Expert witness Dr. Neville Gregory agreed that McDonald’s egg suppliers keep five chickens in each battery cage with no freedom of movement and no access to fresh air or sunshine. It’s hard to imagine any situation in which multinationals could keep animals “comfortable” and still maintain their profit levels; “humane” farming is a myth. Here again, the answer is not reform. Because human beings do not need to eat other animals to be healthy, and because, as Gary Francione has pointed out, all sentient beings ought to have the right not to be the property of human beings, adopting a purely vegetarian diet is the best way to challenge the food industry’s control over us and over animals. See “Interview with Professor Gary L. Francione on the State of the U.S. Animal Rights Movement” in the Summer 2002 issue of this publication or on the Internet at

[13] See “McLibel: Do-It-Yourself Justice,” By Dave Morris and Helen Steel (visited June 2002). Article by Lee Hall, July 2002 Originally printed in Friends of Animals quarterly magazine, ActionLine, Autumn 2002 issue.


Letter of response by McLibel defendant, Dave Morris

Subject: McLibel article in Friends of Animals 'Action Line'

Dear Friends of Animals folks,

Thanks for your excellent article re Burger King veggie burgers, vegetarianism and McLibel. Animal rights supporters should never be conned into being apologists or cheerleaders for organisations which exist only to make profits, let alone those which thrive on exploiting animals, unethically targetting children, promoting unhealthy diets, exploiting workers or damaging the environment.

On October 8th, Helen Steel and I, the 2 McLibel defendants, attended an international McDonald's trades unionists conference in Holland. We showed the McLibel video to delegates from over a dozen countries (which went down a storm) and argued that all trades unionists should oppose McDonald's not just because of their exploitation of workers, but also because of the nature and effects of its business. No doubt some trades unionists might think 'if McDonald's just paid higher wages and recognised Unions they would be OK'. But this limited and one-dimensional thinking is the same as vegetarians saying 'if they only sold veggie-burgers, fine'.

Of course if one day McDonald's workers, along with campaigners and local communities, seized control of all their stores and turned them into collectively-run community centres organising communal vegan meals to share, then I for one would be down there with a smile, enthusiastically enjoying the 'difference'. Or maybe they could be turned into public wash-rooms, or just closed down forever.

I believe that all those who seek to challenge any aspect of injustice and oppression in the world would greatly benefit from linking up with the people who question and oppose other objectionable practices. In this way we will be able to work together to build up strong popular grass-roots movements that can actually begin to change things for the better. That's always been a strong feature of the annual worldwide Anti-McDonald's Day protests on October 16th. This year for the first time since the Day was launched in 1985, we're very pleased that groups of McDonald's workers in a number of countries have joined in, taking action themselves.

The McLibel Support Campaign believe it is vital to relentlessly expose the institutions whose ruthless pursuit of profit and power is causing the environmental, social and ethical problems and crises we are all being forced to deal with. We are particularly pleased with the recent development of an international anti-capitalist movement and think that 18 years of internationally-coordinated and uncompromising anti-McDonald's campaigning and networking has played a part. Thanks are also due to McDonald's for spending $15m on the McLibel case trying to shut people up, but only succeeding in providing us with a world stage to put them on trial and broadcast alternative ideas! Campaigners' magnificent response has been to step up the protests and ensure that anti-McDonald's leaflets are now handed out in millions all around the world.

We can be proud of any successful campaigning efforts, small or large, whilst always flagging up a real alternative. For me, that means the creation of an anarchist society based not on governments, companies, greed, wars, pollution, cruelty and destruction - but on sharing and co-operation, community control of all resources and decision-making, and freedom for all living things.

In solidarity,

Dave Morris
McLibel Defendant and local community activist, London, England  
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