Day Twelve of Closing Speech for the defence

5th Nov 96 - Day 294 of the Trial

Tuesdays session started later than usual, at midday. Mr Morris began the food poisoning section that is about the small section in the original factsheet, entitled "What's your poison". The defence claim that the meaning of the section is that a meat based diet offers a higher risk of food poisoning than one without meat.

During the hour before breaking for lunch at 1pm, Mr Morris looked at the meaning before getting onto his core submissions in the after lunch.

Mr Morris referred to Mr Ramptons opening speech in which he appeared to recognised the risk of food poisoning exists at different stages in the production of the customers food.

Mr Morris continued by examining the evidence of the defence witness Richard North, an Environmental Health Officer specialising in food hygiene and safety. He had made expert visits on their behalf to McKeys Ltd (McDonald's UK hamburger production factory) at Milton Keynes, to Sun Valley Poultry Ltd (McDonald's chicken products supplier), and to a local McDonald's store.

Mr North had stated that the majority of reported food poisoning incidents are linked to eating meat, especially chicken and minced beef (e.g. for burgers). The high volume, intensive Sun Valley production system, he explained, "produced chicken meat with a salmonella burden of 25%, magnified from 1% in the live birds". Regarding the production of hamburgers, he criticised the results of bulking and blending meat used in beefburger production which "is such to maximise risk". He had also added that campylobacter organisms are widely present in both chicken and red meat and can cause disease, even in small quantities, unless eliminated by sufficient core temperatures in cooking.

Mr Morris referred to a government report from the 'Viro-Toxic Committee' which set recommended core cooking temperatures that are greater than the minimum achieved by McDonald's. He spoke about how contamination present in the animals was often present throughout the production and handling of the product and up to the time of cooking. If the cooking was inadequate than the contamination would remain. He reminded the court about the 'Jack in the Box' case in the US where a number of customers had died due to E-coli in their under cooked burgers.

Switching subject a little, Mr Morris talked about the evidence given by Mr North on the subject of pesticide residues - in particular organophosphorous compounds (OPs) which attack human nervous systems and are considered to be undesirable in any quantities. He told how OPs have been used as part of widespread compulsory cattle pest treatment programs, and how official figures cite 40% of cows' milk samples testing positive for OP residues. Mr Morris said that the existence of the official figures on this issue showed that there was official recognition of the transfer of residues into final products.

Mr Morris then looked at the testimony of McDonald's witness John Atherton (responsible for food and employee safety in McDonald's UK). He had admitted that McDonald's receives at least between 1500-2750 customer complaints of food poisoning a year in the UK. The company also received complaints of 'foreign bodies' in food sold. Mr Walker had estimated 800 complaints regarding hamburgers, mostly concerning bits of plastic. Mr Atherton stated it was 'slightly more' for chicken, mostly concerning pieces of bone. Mr Morris added that few complaints were ever recorded, instant complaint forms hardly ever being filled in, instead a complaining customer would be brushed off with an offer of a replacement burger or some vouchers.

The court was reminded by Mr Morris about some of the occasions when the authorities had taken action against McDonald's for selling raw or undercooked meat products including an incident in November 1994 when a 3 year old girl was served undercooked Chicken McNuggets containing salmonella. The McNuggets were tested by local health officials and declared unfit for human consumption. The company had also admitted responsibility for a serious food poisoning outbreak in Preston in 1991, when several customers were hospitalised as a result of eating undercooked burgers contaminated by potentially deadly E.Coli 0157H bacteria. They also admitted responsibility for a similar outbreak in 1982 caused by the same type of bacteria, which affected 47 people in Oregon and Michigan, USA.

Mr Morris said that the recorded cases, which McDonald's have been forced to accept responsibility for, left both Plaintiffs (McDonald's UK and McDonald's US) 'banged-to-rights'. He said that the potential for under-cooking in McDonald's stores was a reality due to the fragile nature of their system that relies on there being no human error. He said that such human error was inevitable in a system where the temperature and cooking time were kept low to ensure speedy service.

Justice Bell interrupted when Mr Morris tried to present the signed testimony of McDonald's expert witness on food poisoning, Colin Clarke. He had prepared a detailed report following a visit he made to three company stores and referred to them in his witness statement. However McDonald's had decided not to call on him as a witness so the evidence becomes inadmissible. Mr Clark said that he, "recommends that 73 degrees Celsius be the internal minimum temperature of the final product, and that their temperatures were not reaching that in all cases. The minimum was, in fact, 70 degrees Celsius."

Mr Morris then referred to McDonald's confidential Operations Manual for all stores world-wide. It set a minimum internal temperature to be reached of 64 degrees Celsius for a cooked burger. Robert Beavers had said the company was "maybe 99.8%" sure this temperature was safe. But he believed it had been raised a degree or two following the deaths of two customers of Jack-In-The-Box a couple of years back, in a similar incident to the 1982 McDonald's one. He had also admitted that this recent incident had "heightened the awareness of everyone in the industry" and agreed that the US Government "was concerned" about internal temperatures of cooked burgers and was considering introducing regulations "if necessary".

Mr Morris repeated that the McDonald's system was fundamentally flawed and was breached regularly. McDonald's own specification for cooking temperature had increased about three times in the UK during the last ten years, and yet still didn't reach the levels recommended. He said that the further back in time you went, the greater the risk of food poisoning from McDonald's undercooking. He added, "McDonald's are sacrificing safety concerns to make a speedy product".

Justice Bell amazingly seemed unable to accept that a company could knowingly choose to risk customer health for increased profits. Mr Morris countered that McDonald's knowledge of the risks could not be doubted (slight increases in cooking time had been implemented occasionally, such as after the deaths caused by undercooked burgers at the 'Jack-in-the-Box' chain). He said that McDonald's policy of speed and hustle meant that the safety issues were inevitably going to be magnified.

Ms Steel commented that McDonald's production had to be fast, in order to maximise turn-over and profit. She said that the source of food poisoning was rarely traced and in fact most food poisoning went unreported. McDonald's would not willing accept responsibility, knowing that most would not attempt to prove it in court and the few that did would be cheaper to pay-off than the corresponding drop in profits if McDonald's increased their cooking time to reduce the risk of food poisoning. Ms Steel pointed out that McDonald's had not provided any reason for their refusal to increase cooking times and she claimed that the only reason they had was that it would slow their business and reduce their profits.

Mr Morris touched briefly on the testimony of Dr Alan Long, an independent researcher for over 40 years who had given evidence for the Defence. He had studied at first hand conditions for cattle and pigs on farms, at markets, in transportation and slaughterhouses. His evidence was that animals had been turned into production 'machines', subject to stress and distress, disease, abuse, and a short and totally unnatural life. He had also said that a whole series of what are termed 'production diseases' affected dairy cows - effectively brought on by "excessive pressures of production".

Mr Morris than reminded the court of the evidence of Dr Pattison. He had said that so far as chicken products are concerned, the principal hazards to human health are campylobacter and salmonella food poisoning organisms. Campylobacter was generally found on 70% of raw poultry. Whilst, he claimed, salmonella was now only found in 1% of chickens coming into the plant, 25% of samples of their deboned meat contained salmonella organisms. He said that particularly for the very young and very old, "a very low number of organisms can cause food poisoning". The company did not test raw chicken for listeria, but Dr Pattison accepted that 60% of raw chickens were contaminated with listeria monocytogenes, which can also cause illness in people. He said that the bacteria would be killed when cooked, if the meat itself reached 70 degrees Celsius for 2 minutes.

Switching to the subject of Growth Promoters, Mr Morris quoted a McFact card from McDonald's UK that stated, "McDonald's will not accept beef from cattle subjected growth promoters or hormone treatment". Mr Kenny said it was "not desirable" to have hormones or antibiotics in the food chain. He believed that the concern with antibiotics was that "treatment resistant strains of bacteria may develop in the human body". The use of growth promoting hormones is illegal in the UK, but McDonald's have acknowledged that they are widely used in the USA and the company uses meat from animals subjected to growth promoters. Mr Kenny also acknowledged 'public concerns' over pesticide residues in food and stated that McDonald's "would not want them in the food chain" because of health risks. The defendants had referred to a 1987 US National Research Council report on pesticide residues which found that beef ranked second of the list of foods with the greatest estimated 'oncogenic' (carcinogenic) risk. Mr Kenny had admitted that their lettuce contained pesticide residues, although he believed the residue levels were within government 'limits'.

Mr Morris then spoke about the bacteriological contamination of beef products. Timothy Chambers (Quality Assurance Manager from Midland Meat Packers Ltd) had expressed his concern that the widespread use of water sprays in abattoirs to 'clean' carcasses merely spread bacterial contamination around.

Marja Hovis' evidence on the hygiene concerns surrounding McDonald's food was the next thing that Mr Morris examined. She worked in 1994 as an experienced Official Veterinary Surgeon at Alec Jarret Ltd - an abattoir near Bristol that supplied McKey Foods, McDonald's UK sole supplier of hamburgers. She had been specially brought in by the local authority to sort out shortcomings at the slaughterhouse and described several discrepancies between official regulations and actual practice at the plant, including poor hygiene, improper inspection and higher than recommended storage temperatures - all of which could contribute to contamination and bacterial growth in McDonald's beefburgers. She had been dismissed after refusing to bow to pressure to sign export certificates for the slaughterhouse's beef to verify (without the necessary back-up documents) it as coming from herds which had been 'BSE-free' for at least 6 years (as then required by European regulations).

Mr Morris reminded the court of Mr North's opinion that the cooking systems in McDonald's stores have "no defence in depth" and have to be maintained at all times "to overcome defects in an inherently unhygienic and fragile business". He had cited the serious outbreak of E.Coli food poisoning at McDonald's Preston stores in 1991 as an example of weaknesses in the company's systems, and noted Defence evidence of widespread staff inexperience, pressure of work and equipment problems. Mr North concluded that "the McDonald's chain in the UK continues to regard adherence to hygiene codes as more of a marketing tool than an issue of public safety".

Note:Due to the unavailability of the official court transcripts at this time, this report has not been checked for accuracy against the transcripts but was complied from extensive notes taken during the day by volunteers.
See also: The report for the previous day
and, for summaries of all the key evidence given during the trial;
Trial News 1, Trial News 2, and Trial News 3