Trial News 1 (January 1995)

This information was supplied by the McLibel Support Campaign

The High Court libel trial brought by the $26 billion a year McDonald's Corporation against two unwaged London Greenpeace Supporters began in June 1994 and is now expected to last until Spring/Summer 1996. It looks certain to become one of the longest libel trials ever.

The libel is alleged to have occurred in 1989/90. Approximately 180 witnesses from the UK and around the world are giving evidence in court on all the issues in the case, namely:

Here follows a summary of some of the evidence from the first 6 months of the trial:


"Kiss of Death" - The Defendants asked Dr Sydney Arnott (McDonald's expert on cancer) his opinion of the following statement: "A diet high in fat, sugar, animal products and salt and low in fibre, vitamins and minerals is linked with cancer of the breast and bowel and heart disease". He replied: "If it is being directed to the public then I would say it is a very reasonable thing to say". The court was then informed that the statement was an extract from the London Greenpeace Factsheet. This section had been characterised at pre-trial hearings as the central and most "defamatory" allegation, which if proven would be the "kiss of death"* for a fast-food company like McDonald's. On the strength of the supposed scientific complexities surrounding this issue the Defendants had been denied their right to a jury.

* Richard Rampton QC for McDonald's, Court of Appeal, 16th March 1994

McDonald's expert witness Professor Verner Wheelock, a consultant engaged by the company since 1991, admitted that there is a considerable amount of evidence that diseases such as obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease (which he said was the "number one health problem of the nation"), stroke and some forms of cancer are related to a diet high in fat, saturated fat, salt and sugar and low in dietary fibre. He agreed that "We have now reached the point where we can be very confident that diet is the primary factor in the development of most of the degenerative diseases in many industrialised countries" (including cancer). He also agreed with government dietary recommendations based on such views. He admitted that a typical McDonald's meal was high in fat, saturated fat and sodium content (Paul Preston McDonald's UK President had earlier admitted that McDonald's products were low in fibre) and would not come within dietary recommendations and further that it was "not sensible" to encourage the eating of foods high in fat, saturated fat, sugar and sodium (salt) and low in fibre. He accepted that people were attracted to high levels of sugar and salt and found it hard to give up the taste.

McDonald's claims to support official 'Health of the Nation' dietary initiatives to improve the population's health but John Hawkes, Chief Marketing Officer, admitted this had had no effect on their marketing department. McDonald's does not have a department responsible solely for nutrition. Edward Oakley, Senior Vice-President of McDonald's UK, admitted that "it is not felt to be an important enough issue to have a separate nutritional department like McDonald's have marketing or communications departments".

Geoffrey Cannon , Chairperson of the National Food Alliance of consumer organisations, and scientific director of the World Cancer Research Fund, was called by the Defendants as an expert on public health policy. He stated that the US government, European Union, and World Health Organisation all recommended reducing consumption of fatty foods and increasing consumption of fruit, vegetables and other foods containing fibre in order to prevent a significant proportion of the large number of deaths each year from heart disease (200,000 in the UK ) and cancer (160,000 in the UK).

The 1990 World Health Organisation (WHO) Report stated "dietary factors are now known to influence the development of...heart disease, various cancers, hypertension...and diabetes . These conditions are the commonest cause of premature death in developed countries. ...The 'affluent' type of diet that often accompanies economic development is energy dense. People consuming these diets characteristically have a high intake of fat (especially saturated fat) and free sugars and a relatively low intake of complex carbohydrates (from starchy, fibre-containing foods)".

Mr Cannon agreed that for those seeking to improve the population's health it was "not sensible or responsible to encourage people to eat foods nutritionally worse than the dietary guidelines". Such food could "be reasonably considered as being unhealthy" and a "negative contribution" to the diet.

Dr Neal Barnard, President of the US Physicians' Committee for Responsible Medicine and an expert on nutrition and health, said on behalf of the Defendants "many products sold at McDonald's are high in fat and cholesterol, and low in fibre and certain vitamins", and as a result these products "contribute to heart disease, certain forms of cancer and other diseases" (including obesity, diabetes, and hypertension). The links between diet and these now epidemic diseases are, he said, "established beyond any reasonable doubt", and were causal in nature. During Dr Barnard's evidence, Richard Rampton QC (for McDonald's) conceded that "we would all agree" that there is a link between a high fat, low fibre diet and cancer of the breast and colon.

Dr Barnard pointed out that, in addition to the problem of consuming too much fat and too little fibre in the diet, there is also increasing concern in the US about the carcinogenic mutagens which form on the surface of grilled and fried meat.

Dr Barnard stated that "McDonald's products clearly contain significantly more fat than government guidelines and health authorities recommend". Evidence had shown that "fatty foods tend to be habituating" and "increase the likelihood of continued high fat intake". "McDonald's food remains part of the problem, rather than part of the solution". He quoted the director of a major study into heart disease,Dr William Castelli who said "When you see the Golden Arches you're probably on the road to the pearly gates".

Professor Michael Crawford, an expert on dietary fats and their relation to human health, and a consultant to the World Health Organisation gave evidence for the Defendants. He emphasised the association between a high fat diet and increased risk of cancers of the breast, colon and prostate cancer. This is particularly evident from 'population studies' of different countries with varied diets and disease rates, from 'migration' studies (showing that immigrant populations soon adopted the diet and disease rates of the country of settlement), and from the large increase of heart disease and cancer in countries such as Japan where the modern western diet is fast replacing traditional, healthier diets. He stated that "not only are McDonald's encouraging the use of a style of food which is closely associated with risk of cancer and heart disease whilst health professionals are trying to reduce the risks to Western populations, but they are actively promoting the same in cultures where at present these diseases are not a problem".

Expansion and Subversion

Peter Cox, former marketing consultant, and also former Chief Executive of the Vegetarian Society, gave evidence for the Defence as an expert on the marketing of food. He quoted from 'Behind the Arches', a book authorised by McDonald's in 1987, as evidence that McDonald's were engaged in 'a strategy of subversion' by trying to alter the dietary preferences of whole nations, 'very often for the worse'. Mr Cox read the following quotes from 'Behind the Arches': In Japan, McDonald's faced "a fundamental challenge of establishing beef as a common food". Their President, Den Fujita, stated "the reason Japanese people are so short and have yellow skins is because they have eaten nothing but fish and rice for two thousand years"; "if we eat McDonald's hamburgers and potatoes for a thousand years we will become taller, our skin become white and our hair blonde". The book says that Fujita "aimed virtually all his advertising at children and young families", and that he stated "we could teach the children that the hamburger was something good". The company also changed eating habits in Australia. Peter Ritchie (McDonald's Australian president) said he "attributes that change to the influence McDonald's has on children". The book concludes that rather than adapt to local tastes and preferences "McDonald's foreign partners made major changes in marketing in order to sell the American system".

Professor Crawford explained how "modern beef production has become distorted from the wild nature of food to which we are physiologically adapted" in that modern cattle are intensively reared for fast weight gain, resulting in unnaturally high levels of fat, particularly saturated fat. Meat from modern domestic cattle was in excess of 25% carcass fat, compared to 2-5% in wild animals.

Dr Tim Lobstein, co-director of the Food Commission, a consumer organisation, gave evidence for the Defence as an expert on food policy issues. On studying eight suggested typical McDonald's 'meal combinations', he concluded that they are "generally imbalanced with regard to their nutrient content". He said they are "excessively fatty and salty", and correspondingly low in "nutrient density" of several essential nutrients such as vitamins and minerals. A Food Commission survey in 1987 had found that 31% of people questioned at fast food stores in Peckham ate fast food every day, and that 9% of the total sample ate burgers every day. Dr Lobstein concluded that there were sections of the population eating an very unbalanced diet - this view was backed by reference to other surveys. He was particularly concerned by the diets of school children, and also by the expansion of McDonald's promotions in schools and hospitals.

McDonald's line that their food can be eaten as part of a balanced diet was, according to Dr Lobstein, "meaningless". He said "you could eat a roll of sellotape as part of a balanced diet". Rather than using the word 'balance', he would suggest greater consumption of healthy foods. "McDonald's tends to take the basic food ingredients and add fat, salt and sugar, so encouraging their customers to eat a worse diet."

Peter Cox referred to a company document from 1985 (not available in stores) which made it absolutely clear that the company was aware even then of the links between diet and diseases - it specified heart disease, cancer, diabetes and obesity. It was his opinion therefore that the effect of the company's efforts to promote their products as 'good, nutritious food' over the years was "to debase the concept of 'healthy eating' to no more than a cynical sales promotional ploy".

Mr Cox explained that the company's claim to be concerned about healthy eating was not borne out by the products sold. Even their salads (still only available in some stores) had a 'ludicrously high' fat content (over 50% calories from fat) He told how the company were now promoting their newest menu item - the "Mega Mac" which comprises 4 meat patties and contains huge amounts of fat and saturated fat. He said there was a huge 'credibility gap - the difference between the image portrayed...and the reality of the food sold'. He believed that the few positive steps made had been taken 'perhaps rather grudgingly' as a result of public pressure.

Advertising Deceit

Stephen Gardner, former Assistant Attorney General of Texas, gave evidence for the Defence. He explained how in 1987 McDonald's began a major, but deceptive, advertising campaign. The company claimed it was an "informational" campaign about the content of their food. However, the company's own internal magazine stated that the aim was " a long term commitment beginning with a year long advertising schedule" .... "to neutralise the junk food misconceptions about McDonald's good food." The buzz words in almost all the ads were "nutrition", "balance" and "McDonald's good food".

After the series of ads hit the news-stands, the Attorney General of Texas, in conjunction with the two other major states wrote a letter to McDonald's on 24th April 1987 stating: "The Attorneys General of Texas, California and New York have concluded our joint review of McDonald's recent advertising campaign which claims that McDonald's food is nutritious. Our mutual conclusion is that this advertising campaign is deceptive. We therefore request that McDonald's immediately cease and desist further use of this advertising campaign. The reason for this is simple: McDonald's food is, as a whole, not nutritious. The intent and result of the current campaign is to deceive customers into believing the opposite. Fast food customers often choose to go to McDonald's because it is inexpensive and convenient. They should not be fooled into eating there because you have told them it is also nutritious. ...The new campaign appears intended to pull the wool over the public's eyes."

The court heard that an internal company memo, reporting on a high level meeting in March 1986 with public relations advisors prior to this advertising campaign stated "McDonald's should attempt to deflect the basic negative thrust of our critics.....How do we do this? By talking 'moderation and balance'. We can't really address or defend nutrition. We don't sell nutrition and people don't come to McDonald's for nutrition".

Mr Gardener also referred the court to some of the specific examples of inaccuracies and distortions in the 16 individual advertisements. He related how, after the three States had threatened legal action if the ads were repeated, McDonald's promised to stop the ads. At the current trial McDonald's claim that the ads were not dropped and were later printed again. However, none of the four ads they said had been run after the threats were the specific ads referred to in the complaints and none mentioned "nutrition", "balance" or "McDonald's good food". Mr Gardner stated that to the average consumer the word nutritious "conveys a sense of a healthy product that is not deleterious to one's physical well-being. Specifically, a product that is nutritious is one that does not contain excessive amounts of nutrients that should be avoided, such as fats, sodium and the like"

Just what do they mean by 'Nutritious' ?

There seemed to be agreement amongst McDonald's representatives as to what nutritious meant. Edward Oakley, Chief Purchasing Officer and Senior Vice-President of McDonald's UK, is responsible for the nutrition guides currently available in McDonald's stores. When asked what 'nutritious' means in the guide he stated "foods that contain nutrients". Asked if there was any food he knew of that is not nutritious he said "I do not know if you would call it food or not, but you could put up an argument for black coffee or black tea or mineral water". Asked "what about Coca Cola?", he said "Coca Cola has a good source of energy, no question of that", he was then asked if he thought it was nutritious, to which he stated "yes, it can be". David Green, Senior Vice-President of Marketing (USA), had a similar view on what nutritious meant. He also thought Coca Cola was nutritious, he said that it was 'providing water, and I think that is part of a balanced diet'.

Even Professor Wheelock, McDonald's consultant on nutrition, defined the word nutritious to mean "contains nutrients". He then accepted that all foods have nutrients. When asked to define 'junk food' he said it was 'whatever a person doesn't like' (in his case semolina). With disbelief mounting in the courtroom, Richard Rampton (McDonald's Q.C.) intervened to say that McDonald's was not objecting to the description of their food as 'junk food'!


Dr Erik Millstone, an expert on food additives raised concerns about the safety of nine additives used by McDonald's.

Dr Millstone said that as regulatory bodies judged the safety of additives, and consequently their regulatory status largely by reference to tests on animals, they should be consistent in interpreting results and any adverse effects shown should be taken seriously. However in several cases where additives had produced adverse effects (including cancer) in animals, the additives were nonetheless permitted for use (including many of the 9 additives in issue). In contrast if an additive did not produce adverse effects in animals it was officially assumed it would be harmless to humans.

He believed that where there were doubts over the safety of additives the benefit of the doubt should be given to the consumer, not to the compound or the industry. He said "if the object of the exercise was the protection of public health rather than helping companies negotiate their way through regulatory hurdles" then the approach he advocated would be adopted.

Dr Millstone's view was that the additives listed should be banned because of doubts over their safety, but in the meantime it was essential for additives to be properly labelled. He said he could see 'no particular difficulty at all for McDonald's in providing comprehensive ingredient listing' on the packaging.


McDonald's Annual Report records that in 1993 worldwide expenditure for advertising and promotions totalled $1.4 billion, about 6% of sales. $870m is spent annually in the USA alone. McDonald's UK spend approx 35m per year.

John Hawkes, McDonald's UK Chief Marketing Officer, said the purpose of advertising is 'communication', and 'persuasion', to foster 'brand awareness' and 'loyalty', in order to increase sales. 'You have to keep your name in front of people's minds.' Without advertising, he said, 'you might see the company decline completely'. He considered that advertising was 'a key element of free speech in this country'.

He said that McDonald's concentrate on TV as 'the most powerful advertising medium'. In the UK the company advertises on TV to children, in particular 2 to 8 year olds, most weeks of the year. Mr Hawkes, hoped that teaching them McDonald's songs would "keep the memory of McDonald's at the forefront of their minds so they can again ask their parents if they can come to McDonald's". The company didn't target 8 to 15 year olds so much, Mr Hawkes said. 'At that age they do not pester their parents to go to McDonald's. It does not work in the same way'. He stated that when McDonald's was launched in a new region or country (this included Scotland a few years ago), the company would at first advertise exclusively to children. He said "one of the tactics is to reach families through children".

Incredibly, Paul Preston McDonald's UK President claimed that the character Ronald McDonald was intended not to "sell food" to children, but to promote the "McDonald's experience". However, he did agree that Ronald "is a useful marketing tool". It was revealed in court that Geoffrey Guiliano, the main Ronald McDonald actor in the 1980's, had quit and publicly apologised, stating "I brainwashed youngsters into doing wrong. I want to say sorry to children everywhere for selling out to concerns who make millions by murdering animals".

Extracts from the corporation's official and confidential 'Operations Manual' were read out giving an insight into the company's strategy: "Children are often the key decision-makers concerning where a family goes to eat". Offering toys is "one of the best make them loyal supporters". Birthday parties are "an important way to generate added sales and profits". Ronald McDonald "is a strong marketing tool". "Ronald loves McDonald's and McDonald's food. And so do children, because they love Ronald. Remember, children exert a phenomenal influence when it comes to restaurant selection. This means that you should do everything you can to appeal to children's love for Ronald and McDonald's."

McDonald's internal code for their ads states that an aim is to make people feel 'a warm empathy towards the commercial' and therefore, he agreed, 'feel an empathy towards the company'. David Green, McDonald's Senior Vice President of Marketing in the USA denied this was 'manipulating people's emotions'. He also denied 'brainwashing children with Ronald McDonald' or having a 'hidden agenda' in the use of Ronald. However, he recognised that McDonald's 'could change people's eating habits' and that children were 'virgin ground as far as marketing is concerned'.

He agreed that community and charitable activity was 'a benefit to the company' and 'good business' which gained 'free publicity', and he related how 'educational' promotions in schools "generate better feelings" towards McDonald's and lead to more 'patronage'.

Mr Green stated that McDonald's didn't propose that people could sensibly eat the company's food 'as part of a diet composed largely of that kind of food'. He said 85-95% of Americans visit McDonald's, although a quarter of their customers ('heavy users') made 75% of all visits. 11% of visits were from 'Super Heavy Users', who ate there 4 or more times per week. Mr Green said their marketing strategy was to target heavy users to increase their frequency of visits. He denied there was a 'huge credibility gap' between the reality of McDonald's food and the way they portrayed it.

Alistair Fairgrieve, McDonald's UK Marketing Services Manager, stated "it is our objective to dominate the communications area...because we are competing for a share of the customer's mind". He outlined some of the research undertaken by the company to discover what customers were thinking and the effects of advertising. He explained that questions were asked about seventeen 'functional' and 'emotional' attributes which were 'ranked in terms of importance' to McDonald's. "At the top there are the ones by which we stand or fall." At the bottom were four categories: 'Food is Filling', 'Good Value For Money', 'Use Top Quality Ingredients', and finally 'Nutritious Food'.

During 1991, worried that customers were visiting less frequently, the company conducted a survey. This revealed that such customers characterised the company as being "loud, brash, American, successful, complacent, uncaring, insensitive, disciplinarian, insincere, suspicious, arrogant".

Juliet Gellatley, former Director of Youth Education and Campaigns of the Vegetarian Society, currently Director of VIVA (an educational charity), gave evidence for the Defence about the effects on young people of McDonald's advertising. As Director for Youth Education she gave talks to about 30,000 children of all ages at 500 classroom debates, and also to thousands of adults as well on vegetarianism and related issues. Following the talks children discussed changing their diets. On many occasions, of those interested in "going vegetarian" some felt they couldn't because they would be the "odd one out" or "be laughed at" if they couldn't go to McDonald's. They often indicated that this was "because of the hype" and when questioned further they talked about McDonald's advertisements which they had seen. She stated she had been surprised that "McDonald's was the only burger chain specifically mentioned" in any of the talks, and that it came up "so often".

Ms Gellatley stated that McDonald's claim that they don't exploit children because "children are never encouraged to ask their parents to bring them to McDonald's" was "farcical". "Clearly the main purpose of advertising aimed at 2 to 8 year olds is precisely to encourage children to ask their parents to take them to McDonald's, otherwise what would be the point in advertising directly to such young children". How could young children, she said, "differentiate between what is real and what is not", "what is good for them and what is bad", and "between being sold to and not being sold to". "I think McDonald's play on that as much as they possibly can...this is what I mean by exploiting children." She related how the younger kids "kept mentioning...Ronald McDonald" who they "obviously looked up to" as "just a pure and positive and fun character and something quite real to them". She said, "younger children seem to think it did not matter how much of McDonald's products they ate", it was "healthy and was good, because Ronald McDonald told them that was so".

Many of the adults Ms Gellatley had talked with had also mentioned the influence their children had in getting them to take them to what they termed "a junk food place like McDonald's", which advertising had succeeded in portraying as a "treat". "A lot of parents think their children eat too much junk food", she said.

Sue Dibb, employed by the National Food Alliance to research the effects of food advertising to children, gave expert evidence for the Defendants. To protect children's health, the NFA had called for a ban on advertising of sugary and fatty foods at times when large numbers of children were likely to be watching television. (Other countries, for example Norway and Sweden have severe restrictions on advertising to children and in some instances, outright bans.) In her view, "the cumulative effect of much food advertising does result in harm to children, in the sense that it encourages inappropriate nutritional practices which will have implications for children's health and their health in later life". She believed that in the debate over the future of food advertising "public health should be given priority" over the wishes of advertisers.

Children, described by one marketing company as an 'advertisers dream', were effectively encouraged to wield 'pester power' over their parents. In a recent survey nearly half of the parents of children aged over 5 said they often gave in to buying foods they would not otherwise buy as a result of that pester power. Almost two thirds of those questioned felt there should be tougher restrictions on advertising of food and soft drinks to children.

Ms Dibb had attended a seminar organised by and for those in the advertising industry entitled "Pester Power - how to reach kids in 1994", which discussed the most effective techniques for advertising to children. McDonald's, she said, use all such techniques in their ads - seeking to 'draw children into the McDonald's world". Use of characters (such as Ronald McDonald) was a major trend in children's food and drink marketing and could be said to 'play on children's affection and loyalty' to those characters and 'exploit their emotions' (despite this being against the Independent Television Commission's (ITC) advertising code). Sections of McDonald's own operations manual, said Ms Dibb, "appeared to be a direct exhortation to managers to use children's emotions and particularly their love for Ronald McDonald to bring them into the store". Asked if she had concerns about this Ms Dibb said 'I do not think it is ethical'.

Ms Dibb criticised McDonald's 'misleading' attempts to associate its products with health, fitness and sport. She was also concerned about the "underlying promotional message" in McDonald's links with schools, dentists, etc, and in their increasing sponsorship activity, stating that whilst it appeared to be altruistic it was "advertising in a covert way".


The Rainforests section of the Trial is due to begin in January 1996. However, during the Defendants' opening speeches, internal company documents were read to the court in which McDonald's admitted the purchase in the UK in 1983 of beef imported from Brazil, a rainforest country - something which the company had always denied. When the Defendants attempted to question a witness from McDonald's about these documents, Mr Rampton QC made an objection claiming that the documents could not be used in court because they had been 'disclosed by mistake'. Two weeks later, after the witness had left court, just before there was to be a legal argument over this, Mr Rampton withdrew his objection!'

Mr Oakley, Chief Purchasing Officer and Senior Vice-President of McDonald's UK and Ireland said he was aware that the company had purchased Brazilian beef. He claimed it was for a relatively short period of time but said he was not sure how long exactly. He said that McDonald's claimed policy of not using beef which originated outside the European Community was not brought in until "around the mid-80's -- maybe 1986".

A letter from the US Corporation to a member of the public in the UK in 1982 stated 'McDonald's has a long standing policy of buying all of our products from suppliers in the host country where we are doing business'.......'as a result we can assure you that the only Brazilian beef used by McDonald's is that purchased by the six stores located in Brazil itself'. Mr Oakley said he thought the letter was referring to the finished products (hamburgers), it was not "talking about raw ingredients". He denied that the purchase of Brazilian beef for use in the UK was in breach of McDonald's policy saying "No, it was not. We still bought the hamburgers locally. We did not buy the ingredients locally".

Despite objections by the corporation's highly-paid barrister, during the opening speeches an extract from the TV documentary 'Jungleburger' was shown, in which McDonald's beef suppliers in Costa Rica stated that they also supplied beef for use by McDonald's in the USA. On top of this McDonald's had admitted that in Costa Rica their stores used beef reared on ex-rainforest land (deforested as recently as 10 years previously) contrary to their own propaganda.


The Employment section of the Trial, probably the largest section, is due to begin in April 1995, but in July 1994, Paul Preston, McDonald's UK President, said he did not consider the current starting wage of 3.10 an hour for crew members to be low pay. However, when asked, he refused to reveal his own salary. When asked why the company couldn't pay higher wages to crew members out of the $1 billion profits it made last year, he claimed that "people are paid a wage for the job they do", even though he had earlier agreed that crew members worked hard and their job was more physically demanding than his own. When asked if the company could use its $1 billion advertising budget to pay higher wages he stated that without advertising the company would have "no business".

A taster of the abundant evidence to come on McDonald's attitude to trade unions was provided by Robert Beavers, Senior Vice-President of the corporation in the USA. He agreed that in the early 70's, at a time when trade unions were trying to organise in McDonald's in the US, the company set up a "flying squad" of experienced managers who were despatched to a restaurant the same day that word came in of an attempt by workers to unionise it. Unions made no headway in the company.

Paul Preston said that if employees wanted to then "they should join" a trade union. However, in two incidents in London in the 1980's when staff had expressed an interest in joining trade unions, managers had called McDonald's UK head of 'Human Resources' to the stores to "talk" to the discontented staff.


Paul Preston, McDonald's UK President, asserted that styrofoam packaging is less environmentally damaging than using plates, knives and forks! He also said that if one million customers each bought a soft drink, he would not expect more than 150 cups to end up as litter. Photographs were then put to Mr Preston, which showed 27 pieces of McDonald's litter in one stretch of pavement alone (the company has over 550 stores in the UK and serves a million customers each day).

Edward Oakley, Chief Purchasing Officer and Senior Vice-President of McDonald's UK, claimed that McDonald's have a consciousness of environmental considerations and referred to the company's 'environmental task force' and a corporate environmental policy. He stated he did not know when this policy was published, but had seen it 'on a wall' at their head office He said the policy "had not had any direct effect on the purchasing department", but "it certainly did on the Communications [PR] department".

He denied that the company's so called "Environmental Initiatives"; were, in the main, a propaganda exercise. However, one of the company's nationally available 'McFact' cards publicised a scheme to recycle polystyrene waste from Nottingham stores, where customers were asked to put polystyrene packaging into a separate bin, "for recycling into such things as plant pots, coat hangers and insulation material for use in homes, even fillings for duvets". Mr Oakley admitted that despite the scheme continuing for several years, the company did not recycle any of the waste and in fact the polystyrene was "dumped". (Note: Recent press reports from New Zealand indicate that a similar scheme was in operation there, which was also exposed as a sham).

Questioned about the environmental impact of paper versus polystyrene packaging Mr Oakley said it was six of one and half a dozen of the other. He said McDonald's preferred to use polystyrene because they could recycle it, but admitted that the only polystyrene being recycled was some of the packaging from a scheme involving five stores in Manchester (the company has over 550 stores in the UK). He claimed the company aimed to expand the scheme, but agreed that the company "had gone nowhere with that for the last two years or so".

Dumping waste 'an environmental benefit'!

In some countries the company had abandoned or limited the use of polystyrene packaging, in part because it was not biodegradable and took up a lot of space in landfill sites. Mr Oakley stated that there was "no landfill problem in the UK". Questioned as to whether he believed that "as long as there is room in the dumps, there is no problem with dumping lots of McDonald's waste in the ground?" Mr Oakley said "and everybody else's waste, yes, that is true". He said "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." Asked if he was "asserting it is an environmental benefit to dump waste in landfill sites" he stated "It could be".... "yes, it is certainly not a problem".

Mr Oakley admitted that with the exception of the five Manchester stores all post-consumer waste in the UK either ends up as litter or gets dumped in landfill sites. He defended McDonald's use of large quantities of packaging, and said that the use of colourful cartons with company logos was "to put the brand across directly to the customer"...."for image, brand image".

Robert Langert, Director of Environmental Affairs of the McDonald's Corporation, USA, admitted that very little recycled paper was used in McDonald's packaging before 1990. He also accepted that CFCs (used in McDonald's polystyrene foam food packaging) were banned by the US Congress as an aerosol propellant in 1978, but he said that McDonald's was not aware of CFC/ozone depletion as an issue until the mid-80's. Following worldwide concern over CFCs, McDonald's had phased out use of CFCs and HCFCs. However, the 'Environmental Affairs' Manager of Perseco (the sole supplier of McDonald's packaging in over 60 countries), admitted that in 1989 these were still being used in 29 countries, and that even now HCFCs are used in the Philippines and Turkey.

Professor Duxbury, expert witness for McDonald's, agreed that CFCs & HCFCs caused damage to the ozone layer and that in 1988 McDonald's used "significant" quantities of these chemicals. He further said that McDonald's present UK blowing agent, pentane, contributes to smog formation and the greenhouse effect.

Mr Oakley admitted that when UK McDonald's introduced CFCs in their polystyrene packaging in 1986 they were aware of the ozone damage caused by CFCs in aerosols. He claimed the company was not aware of similar concerns over the use of CFCs in packaging until later that year. It then took until 1988 for McDonald's to cease using CFCs in this country. Press reports revealed that in 1987 Friends of the Earth had called for a boycott of McDonald's products over this issue, but Mr Oakley denied that this was a consideration in the decision to cease use of CFCs.

Defence expert witness from the USA, Brian Lipsett, explained how the 'McToxics' campaign galvanised thousands of protests and official bans and forced McDonald's to withdraw their polystyrene foam food packaging in the US. He identified the problems associated with styrofoam - toxic wastes, damage to the ozone layer and smog pollution; the leaching of styrene from the packaging into the foods packaged in the foam; and the serious disposal problems - the sheer volume of the material and the lack of a suitable method of disposal. McDonald's has continued to use styrofoam in many countries, including the UK.

Professor Walker, McDonald's toxicology expert, agreed that styrene can migrate from polystyrene packaging into food (especially fatty foods). He said that the International Agency for the Research on Cancer had classified styrene as possibly carcinogenic to humans. Also styrene can be metabolised in the body into styrene oxide, which he said appeared to be much more hazardous to human health.


The Trial is currently listening to evidence on this topic [in Jan 95]. Edward Oakley stated that he was also responsible for the Quality Assurance Department at McDonald's. As part of his remit he said he had a responsibility for animal welfare. He claimed that the company "had a very real feeling that animals should be kept and slaughtered in the most humane way possible" and so had published an animal welfare statement two years ago. When questioned about this so-called policy Mr Oakley admitted that the "animal welfare policy is, in fact, just a policy to comply with the laws of the various countries in which McDonald's operate", and added "we do not go beyond what the law stipulates".

Dr Neville Gregory, McDonald's expert witness on the rearing and slaughter of animals, said that chickens used to make 'Chicken McNuggets' and 'McChicken sandwiches' were crammed into sheds, with less than the size of an A4 sheet of paper per bird and no access to daylight. 44% of the chickens had leg abnormalities and other health problems occurred. Chicks rejected by the company were dumped into dustbin-sized containers and gassed.

At age 6-7 weeks birds were transported to the slaughterhouse, where they were hung upside down before being electrically stunned in water. Up to 14% of the chickens received pre-stun shocks, which cause distress and can be painful. 1% of birds (around 1350 per day) were decapitated without being stunned, which Dr Gregory agreed could cause suffering. A further 1% were not dead on entering the scalding tank. He agreed that the stunning and killing methods used did not comply with the government's Codes of Practice, and might lead to distress and pain for the birds.

Mr Oakley claimed that the company "will not purchase from any supplier who does not conform to the Codes of Practice of this Country". He said that if it came to the company's attention that animals were not being properly stunned before being slaughtered "we would discontinue purchasing from the supplier".

Dr Gregory said McDonald's egg suppliers kept chickens in battery cages, 5 chickens to a cage with even less space per bird than the broiler chickens and with no freedom of movement and no access to fresh air or sunshine. Mr Oakley said McDonald's had thought about switching to free range eggs, but, not only were battery eggs "50% cheaper", but, he claimed "hens kept in batteries are better cared for". He said he thought battery cages were "pretty comfortable".

Dr Gregory related that at least 40% of piglets reared for McDonald's products were raised in indoor breeding units. All pigs had their teeth clipped and one in four had their tails docked. When they reached 40kg the pigs were transferred to fattening units, where for the last part of their lives there was only half a square metre of floor space per pig.

Dr Gregory stated that abattoirs supplying McDonald's beef supplier used mainly ex-dairy cows. He accepted that dairy cows were subjected to stress, pain, exhaustion, and disease due to being forced to be almost constantly pregnant and milked. When they became unproductive after only a few years they were sent to be slaughtered for McDonald's burgers. Electric goads were used to force the cows into stunning pens. Cattle were stunned with a captive bolt pistol to the head. Dr Gregory stated that "the accuracy of shooting was not particularly good". Half of the skulls examined showed an inaccurate aim. Imperfect stunning was estimated at 3.7%.

Dr Gregory said that suppliers in general felt that using more effective (higher) stunning currents would affect meat quality, and also that slower killing lines (allowing increased accuracy) would affect profits. He accepted that during inspections slaughter rates are often slowed down because "people are more careful about what they are doing when they are being scrutinised". (Helen & Dave have been unable to independently verify conditions as their expert witnesses have been denied access to the relevant establishments.)


After the destruction of McDonald's case on the links between diet and cancer (see "Kiss of Death" above), McDonald's applied and were given permission to amend their Statement of Claim (issued in September 1990) in this area, despite vigorous protests by the Defendants. The Statement of Claim is the basis of the action, so McDonald's have been able to move the goalposts after most of the evidence in this area has been heard. The Defendants may now have to prove the statement (not contained in the London Greenpeace Factsheet) that "McDonald's sell meals which cause cancer and heart disease in their customers". Helen and Dave may be forced to recall some witnesses to be cross-examined again. In addition to the issue of diet and cancer, McDonald's have changed their case on the Animals issue. They are no longer objecting to the terms 'torture' and 'murder' being used to describe the rearing and slaughter of animals to make McDonald's burgers, but have widened the issues in dispute in this area of the case.

Before the trial began, McDonald's did their utmost to avoid legal obligations to disclose relevant company documents and answer the Defendants' questions. This has been a continuing controversy during the trial with McDonald's suddenly producing new documents half way through their witnesses evidence, but also with numerous arguments to get further documents which the company does not want to disclose. An important document which, when disclosed, had been 95% blanked out by McDonald's QC, was finally obtained complete after nearly a year of effort, but not until after the relevant witnesses had given their evidence.

All quotes are taken directly from the court transcripts.

More Trial News

Trial News 2 - September 1995

Trial News 3 - Autumn 1996

Campaign Statement

The McLibel Support Campaign was set up to generate solidarity and financial backing for the McLibel Defendants, who are not themselves responsible for Campaign publicity. The Campaign is also supportive of, but independent from, general, worldwide, grassroots anti-McDonald's activities and protests.