2nd - 8th March 1996

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

Costa Rican beef producer flown in to attack critics

Arturo Wolf, the Assistant General Manager of FOGASA, a meat processing company which currently supplies beef patties for McDonald's stores in Costa Rica, gave evidence over 2 days. In 1984 he had been interviewed on camera for the prize-winning TV documentary 'Jungleburger' (made by German film director Peter Heller, shown in the UK by Channel 4 but then suppressed in this country after McDonald's sued for libel).

The film, shown in Court, was based on interviews with key players in the beef industry in Costa Rica and the USA. It exposed the 'Hamburger Connection' whereby Central American tropical forests are being destroyed to make way for cattle production, primarily for export to US fast food chains. Costa Rica at that time had the fastest rate of deforestation of any Central American country.

Mr Wolf, who is from a Costa Rican ranching family, was at the time of fliming, a manager at a US meat plant. He explained in the film that his plant imported beef from Costa Rica for fast food chains. Sergio Quintana, the Sales Director of Coop Montecillos in Costa Rica, was filmed at his plant saying: "We supply McDonald's and Burger King" in the USA. Ranchers were shown deforesting land for beef cattle, and enthusing about its export potential.

Mr Wolf said that the film was all "lies". He stated that after the film was released, he had talked to the others interviewed in the film and claimed they were upset about how it portrayed their industry. The witness stated that Alberto Amador Zamora, President of the Cattle Producers Federation, had told Mr Wolf that he himself had refused to even talk to the film director at the time. However, unbeknown to the witness, Mr Zamora HAD been interviewed (although he didn't appear in the film) and furthermore had implicated McDonald's in the export trade. The defendants had already lodged with the court a transcript of the uncut interview with Zamora and the others, and also the signed legal authorisation forms whereby each witness (including Mr Wolf) verified they had freely given their true opinions for broadcast by Peter Heller.

The witness admitted that he had previously been the Sales Manager of GISA in Costa Rica, a company which he accepted had been one of the two main beef exporters to the United States throughout the 1980s.

Legal controversies continue

The defendants continued to argue that McDonald's should be forced to hand over relevant documents about their beef sources in Costa Rica, Guatemala and Brazil. This was strenuously opposed, as usual, by the company.

On Thursday, after only serving notice at 7pm the night before, Richard Rampton QC applied to amend McDonalds' 'Statement of Claim' (their original case against Helen Steel and Dave Morris). As it stands at the moment, the only thing that McDonald's must prove themselves is that the defendants actually handed out the London Greenpeace Factsheet to the public on specific occasions. To try to prove this they have been forced to serve witness statements from four infiltrators.

But now, McDonald's argued, they should be allowed to claim that the defendants, by their involvement in the group, be held responsible for the distribution of the Factsheet "wheresoever" and "whensoever" it had occurred. On Friday the defendants claimed this was a "massive extension" of the action against them. They argued that they had had no proper notice, time to get full legal advice or time to prepare a response. Despite this, the judge ordered them to be ready to reply by the following Wednesday.

The defendants pointed out that they would be in court from Monday to Wednesday and had to prepare for witnesses appearing on those days. They also explained that they rarely got more than a couple of hours free legal advice each month. Additionally, they had to prepare for a full hearing at the Court of Appeal set for April 2nd (against the judge's ruling on the interpretation of the meaning of the 'nutrition' section of the Factsheet). In addition to other scheduled witnesses, Paul Preston, McDonald's UK President, was due to be recalled between the 18th and the 20th of March to deal with a wide range of issues. These include the complex and fundamental matter of the defendants' Counter Claim against McDonald's for libelling THEM in 300,000 company leaflets.

Defendants reach exhaustion

This was too much for the McLibel defendants. On Friday morning, one of them was unable to continue due to exhaustion and had to walk out. The hearing was later abandoned early. They are now demanding a two week adjournment to regain their strength.

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