4th July - 17th July 1996

Each week McSpotlight will be bringing you a brief report on the latest developments in the McLibel case.

Jane Laporte, who was involved in London Greenpeace in 1989/90, gave evidence for the Defence as part of the Publication section of the trial. Helen Steel (McLibel Defendant) was in the witness box for 4 days giving evidence on Publication and the Counterclaim.

The Judge refused to grant Helen & Dave's application to issue "Third Party Proceedings" against three of the enquiry agents formerly employed on behalf of McDonald's to infiltrate London Greenpeace.


As the evidence in the McLibel Trial drew to a close, McDonald's much-vaunted claim that it is not connected in any way to rainforest destruction was dealt one more devastating blow.

The court had already heard much evidence about the import of five consignments of Brazilian beef for McDonald's UK stores in 1983/4. These shipments only came to light due to a confidential letter mistakenly disclosed to the Defendants in 1994 by McDonald's lawyers, in a bundle of other documents. Clearly, McDonald's would have preferred this to remain a secret. An earlier letter from the US Corporation to a member of the public in the UK in 1982 had stated "we can assure you that the only Brazilian beef used by McDonald's is that purchased by the six stores located in Brazil itself". The shipments also contradicted McDonald's stated policy of only using European-produced beef in the UK.

Lord Vestey, Chairman of Vestey Group Limited, was served with a subpoena by Helen Steel and was forced to come to court to be questioned. In 1983 he was Director of the Vestey family group of companies, who had supplied McDonald's UK with the Brazilian beef from the Vestey plant at Barretos (in the state of Sao Paulo). A letter written at the time, from David Walker (Chairman of McKey Foods, then a subsidiary of McDonald's UK) to the managing director of Weddels (a Vestey subsidiary) revealed that the imports were a matter of great controversy. The letter stated that Prince Philip (President of the World Wildlife Fund) had recently met the President of McDonald's Canada, and had said : " 'So you are the people who are tearing down the Brazilian rainforests and breeding cattle' to which the reply was: 'I think you are mistaken', whereupon HRH said 'Rubbish' and stormed away". Following this, the letter stated that the Chairman of the McDonald's Corporation, "issued a worldwide edict that no McDonald's plant was to use Brazilian beef". The very same letter revealed that McDonald's UK, had given Walker permission to use the Brazilian beef imports.

Since the Brazilian shipments were being arranged at the time of this dispute with Prince Philip, Lord Vestey had been asked by David Walker to write a letter 'confirming' that the beef was not "coming from reclaimed land from destroyed rainforests"

Lord Vestey delivered the requested letter in which he stated that the cattle supplied to the meat plant were not from any rainforest region. However, in court, the assurance given in this letter was completely blown apart. When questioned by the McLibel Two, Vestey admitted that the origins of over 150,OOO head of cattle slaughtered annually at the plant were untracable. They had been transported into central Brazil (Sao Paulo) to be fattened up before slaughter. Brazilian experts for the McLibel Defendants have given evidence that cattle reared in ex-rainforest areas in other states are routinely taken to Sao Paulo state for fattening. Lord Vestey was one of the last witnesses to appear in this courtcase.

As McSpotlight has already reported, the court heard that McDonald's stores in Brazil itself are still supplied from cattle raised on recently cleared ex-rainforest land (in western Goias state) from which indigenous peoples were violently removed.

This testimony caps two years of evidence whereby, for maybe the first time in history, a multinational corporation has been effectively put on trial over their business practices - junk food products, exploitation of workers and animals, advertising strategy and damage to the environment. The alternatives have also been successfully aired and defended. Despite the unfairness of the battle and the oppressive libel laws, and the Defendants' exhaustion, the general feeling of observers is that McDonald's critics have been completely vindicated by the evidence during the trial.


The evidence closed in mid-July. Both sides will return to court in October to present their closing speeches (lasting up to 9 weeks). Judgment is expected at the end of this year or early 1997.

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