THE GREAT McDonald's libel action against two penniless British environmentalists who criticised the hamburger giant has entered a new phase, with closing speeches by the two defendants.
The civil action started in June 1994 and is already the longest in British history. It is reckoned to have cost McDonald's at least £10 million, probably much more money that it cannot conceivably recover, no matter which way the verdict goes.
Helen Steel and Dave Morris are not entitled to legal aid and there is no jury. With none of the resources of their opponent, they have had to examine 180 witnesses. Now they must read 40,000 pages of documentary evidence and 20,000 pages of transcript testimony to prepare their closing speeches. They seem more interested in possible damage to the rainforests, but one section of the alleged libel concerns allegations about the quality of the nutrition provided and the question whether there might be links with major degenerative diseases such as heart disease and cancer.
My own view is that eating hamburgers is a matter of personal choice, like drinking milk. What I would like to hear discussed is the effect of hamburgers on those who do not eat them. through the smells and fatty vapours which are now such a feature of urban life. I hope the defendants have produced enough material to allow the judge, Mr Justice Bell, to give us the benefit of his opinion on the matter.