The Hon. Mr Justice Bell
SUMMARY OF THE JUDGEMENT
The first two sections of the main text of the leaflet complained of appear under the bold headlines "What's the connection between McDonald's and starvation in the 'Third World'?" and "Why is it wrong for McDonald's to destroy rainforest?" They cover the two topics signalled by the headlines.
I will take these sections of the leaflet together, because the theme of the defence case in relation to both is that McDonald's needs large quantities of beef for its hamburgers which consist of beef patties with some garnish, sandwiched in buns; that large numbers of cattle must be reared to satisfy McDonald's appetite for beef patties; that large numbers of cattle need large areas of land for grazing or for growing their feed, and that this land might be used for growing other food products or left in its natural state, some of it forest, were it not for the need for cattle. The Defendants' attempts to justify what is alleged in both sections of the leaflet depended upon their contention that cattle ranching to provide McDonald's restaurants with beef patties has caused deforestation and displacement of small farmers in Costa Rica and Guatemala, and that both cattle ranching and soya farming to produce cattle feed to provide McDonald's restaurants with beef patties has caused deforestation and displacement of small farmers and indigenous peoples in Brazil.
The first section of headings and text plainly bears the meaning that McDonald's is to blame for starvation in the Third World; firstly because it has bought vast tracts of land in poor countries (for cattle ranching, presumably) and evicted the small farmers who lived there growing food for their own people; secondly because the power of its money has forced poor countries to export food (beef, most obviously) to it in the United States, and thirdly because it has drawn some Third World countries to export staple crops as cattle feed.
The message of blame for starvation and buying land and evicting small farmers, which is what the Plaintiffs complained about, is defamatory of both Plaintiffs; the First Plaintiff as the company responsible for running McDonald's restaurants around the world, and the Second Plaintiff as the company running McDonald's in this country where publication is complained of.
The words complained of, bearing the meaning which they clearly do, are straightforward statements of alleged fact. I can see no comment or expression of opinion. This means that if they are to be successfully defended they must be justified as true in substance and in fact.
The second section of the leaflet bears the meaning that the Plaintiffs are guilty of the destruction of rainforest; that they use and have used lethal poisons to destroy vast areas of Central American rainforest to create grazing pastures for cattle to be sent to the United States as burgers and to provide fast-food packaging materials; that the Plaintiffs are through this conduct causing wanton damage to the environment and contributing to a major ecological catastrophe, and that they are forcing the tribal people in the rainforest off their ancestral territories where they have lived peacefully for thousands of years, without damaging their environment.
Again, this is defamatory of both Plaintiffs. It is a straightforward statement of alleged facts, not comment or opinion, so it must be defended as true in substance and in fact; but on balance, I judge the statement at the end of this section of text, saying that "It's no exaggeration to say that when you bite into a Big Mac, you're helping the McDonald's empire to wreck this planet", to be comment, largely because of its figurative language. This is the one defamatory statement in the leaflet, which I judge to be comment. The validity of the comment is clearly based upon McDonald's alleged destruction of rainforest.
There was an issue as to what "rainforest" meant to the ordinary reader of this leaflet. The Defendants, through Mr Morris particularly, argued that it comprised all tropical forest including dry forest.
In my JUDGEMENT "rainforest" in the context of this leaflet, not otherwise defined, must mean more than tropical forest of any kind. After all, the leaflet could have said simply "tropical forest" throughout, but it did not. In my view "rainforest" would mean something special to the ordinary reader. In my view it would mean luxuriant, broad-leaved, evergreen, very wet, canopy forest - very wet because of very heavy rainfall - to the ordinary reader of this leaflet.
Both the general, factual sting and the comment to which I have referred clearly relate to damage to the environment by destruction of rainforest. They do not, in my view, relate to possible damage to the environment by any other means such as the use of CFC or HCFC or pentane gases to make polystyrene foam packaging or the simple use of non-biodegradable polystyrene foam packaging, as the Defendants alleged, or by the cutting down of forests generally, or by the processing of pulp to make paper or paperboard packaging, or by incineration of waste, or by methane emissions from cattle. Those topics are not mentioned in the leaflet, nor are they fairly referable to any defamatory statement about which the Plaintiffs complain in the leaflet.
The text does, in parentheses, allege that the Plaintiffs are lying when they claim to use re-cycled paper and that the Plaintiffs are to blame for tons of the Plaintiffs' paper packaging ending up littering the cities of developed countries, and I will return to those matters when I come to the use of recycled paper; but however unattractive litter is, I do not consider that the ordinary reader would see it as part of the allegation of damage to the environment or major ecological catastrophe or wrecking the planet by destruction of the rainforest.
The text in the same parentheses says that it takes 800 square miles of "forest" just to keep McDonald's supplied with paper for one year, and the Defendants contended that this statement referred to forest generally as distinct from "rainforest"; but in my view the ordinary reader would take this reference to "forest" to mean "rainforest". Although the statement is in parentheses, the parentheses are placed deep in the section which attacks McDonald's for destruction of rainforest and they come immediately after the reference to destruction of rainforest to provide fast-food packaging materials.
There was no evidence that any rainforest timber has ever been used to make McDonald's paper or paperboard packaging. In fact there was no evidence that McDonald's packaging required anything like 800 square miles of any kind of forest, whether cut down each year, which is what I take the leaflet to mean ("just to keep them supplied with paper for one year"), or as an area of sustained forest from which McDonald's requirements could be met indefinitely.
To return to relevant issues, the Plaintiffs contended that these first two sections of the leaflet are false in the meanings which they bear. The Defendants claimed that they are justified and that the comment about wrecking the planet is fair comment.
Quite apart from seeking to justify the particular words in the leaflet, the Defendants asked me to draw the conclusion that by increasing the beef-based fast food market globally, in particular in the U.S.A. and in Western Europe, the Plaintiffs encouraged people around the world, and in rainforest countries, to rear more cattle, thereby contributing to destruction of the rainforest, as part of a "world wide hamburger connection".
However, on the evidence which I have heard and read, and upon which I must judge this case, I can not share the defence view of the extent to which, if at all, the First Plaintiff has helped stimulate markets for beef from former tropical forest or from former rainforest lands.
It is perfectly clear from my reading of the First Plaintiff's Annual Reports that it aims to expand as much and as quickly as possible in countries where McDonald's restaurants are already established and that it aims to continue opening up in new countries, even where there is no, or no significant, beef eating culture. Where the growing and spreading hamburger industry, of which McDonald's is such a powerful part, goes from here, may be a matter of some concern in a number of areas. But in my own JUDGEMENT McDonald's alleged part in an alleged worldwide hamburger connection does not justify the defamatory allegations actually made in the leaflet complained of, so far as starvation in the Third World and destruction of rainforest are concerned.
Taking all the matters which I have set out in the JUDGEMENT into account and on the evidence which I have heard and read, I conclude that the Plaintiffs have not been to blame for starvation in the Third World and they have not been guilty of destruction of rain forest. The defamatory charges in the leaflet that the Plaintiffs are to blame for starvation in the Third World and that they are guilty of the destruction of rainforest are not justified. They are not, and never have been true.
Neither Plaintiff has ever bought or owned vast tracts of land in poor countries or in the Third World, or in Costa Rica, Guatemala or Brazil, They have not bought or owned farming land there. They have not themselves evicted small farmers or anyone else from their land, nor have they directly caused anyone else to do so.
There is no evidence that any farmers or ranchers whose cattle have been slaughtered and processed into McDonald's patties have dispossessed small farmers or tribal people in Costa Rica, Guatemala, Brazil or anywhere else. Even in Brazil where the evidence of dispossession of small farmers and tribal people for cattle ranching generally was strongest, I am unable to draw the inference that any cattle ranchers whose cattle have gone to make McDonald's burgers have been implicated.
In any event the case of implication of either Plaintiff or of any McDonald's company by virtue of the implication of those who have reared cattle which have gone to make McDonald's burgers falls far short of the charge of buying land and of evicting or causing the eviction of small farmers that lived there growing food for their own people which is made in the leaflet.
Neither of the Plaintiffs has drawn any poor country or Third World country or Costa Rica, Guatemala or Brazil to export food including beef to it or any other McDonald's company in the United States. On the evidence which I have heard and read there have been no imports of beef into the United States from anywhere for processing into McDonald's burgers there. There were limited exports of beef from Brazil to the U.K., for McDonald's use, in 1983, and there have occasionally been exports to Argentina and Uruguay in pattie form, but they have been minimal and inconsequential so far as hunger or deforestation in Brazil is concerned.
Neither Plaintiff has drawn any poor country or Third World country or Costa Rica, Guatemala or Brazil to export staple crops as animal feed so as to cause hunger and starvation in the exporting country. Although some Brazilian soya meal has probably been fed to cattle in Germany and may have been fed elsewhere to other animals including chickens and pigs which have in due course been slaughtered and processed into McDonald's products, the comparatively small use of Brazilian soya bean meal to help feed such animals has not been responsible for the advance of soya farming, nor for any consequence of it, in Brazil. Soya farming in Brazil has been largely directed at producing oil for human consumption, that is to limit hunger or starvation.
Neither of the Plaintiffs have used lethal poisons to destroy vast areas or any areas of Central American or Latin American rainforest or any rainforest to create grazing pastures or to provide fast food packaging materials, or for any other reason.
Neither the Plaintiffs nor any McDonald's company has directly destroyed any rainforest. The evidence is insufficient to implicate cattle ranchers whose cattle have gone to make McDonald's burgers in the destruction of rainforest in Costa Rica, Guatemala or Brazil.
Although the expansion of beef cattle production has, with other factors in Costa Rica and Guatemala, and on its own as well as with other factors in Brazil, led to the destruction of areas of rainforest in those three countries, there was no evidence that either Plaintiff or its partners in McDonald's Costa Rica, McDonald's Guatemala and McDonald's Brazil has taken any active part in that destruction or urged anyone else to do so.
In my JUDGEMENT the farmers and ranchers in Costa Rica, Guatemala and Brazil who have reared cattle which have eventually become beef for McDonald's burgers, have done so on land in each country which had been pasture from a time before McDonald's decided to open up in each country.
I do not consider that McDonald's can be held responsible for destruction of rainforest in those countries before McDonald's operated there. Nor do I consider that McDonald's can be held responsible for destruction of rainforest in those countries on the basis that continued grazing by cattle which have gone to become McDonald's beef have stopped regeneration of rainforest. Interference with regeneration of rainforest is not in my view the destruction of rainforest alleged in the leaflet, but in any event I find that the cattle which have gone to became McDonald's beef have come from pastures which were well established in the three countries before McDonald's arrived. There was no evidence that grazing would have ceased on such of those pastures as had been rainforest years before, were it not for McDonald's limited demand for beef there, and the evidence that rainforest would probably have regenerated on those pastures was, in any event, uncompelling.
Neither of the Plaintiffs nor any McDonald's company has been shown to be responsible for any pressure on the rainforest caused by soya farming in Brazil.
It follows that I find that the defamatory charges complained of, that McDonald's, including the First and Second Plaintiffs, is responsible for starvation in the Third World and that by purchasing large tracts of land in poor countries they have evicted or caused the eviction of small farmers that lived there growing food for their own people, are unjustified. They are not true.
It also follows that I find that the defamatory charges that McDonald's, including the First and Second Plaintiffs, is guilty of destruction of rainforest and, more specifically, that it uses and has used lethal poisons to destroy vast areas of Central American rainforest to create grazing pastures for cattle to be sent to the United States as burgers and to provide fast food packaging are unjustified. They are not true.
It also follows that I find that the consequential defamatory charges that the Plaintiffs are, through this conduct, causing wanton damage to the environment and contributing to a major ecological catastrophe, and that they are forcing the tribal people in the rainforest off their ancestral territories where they have lived peacefully for thousands of years without damaging their environment are unjustified. They are not true.
The defamatory comment in the leaflet that McDonald's, including the First and Second Plaintiffs, is wrecking the planet is not fair, because the allegations of fact relating to destruction of the rainforest, upon which it purports to be based, are untrue.