McDonald's VsHome Ecology

Summary: McDonald's again take issue with their connection to rainforest depletion. The book had received widespread coverage and mainstream support appearing in national press. Below is a personal record of the story; letters to McDonald's; a small article reporting McDonald's attack on this and another book; and a footnote by the author of the book.

Another McDonald's Story, by Karen Christiansen

Date: Nov 2, 1994

In 1989 I, an American resident in Britain, wrote an environmental handbook called HOME ECOLOGY: MAKING YOUR WORLD A BETTER PLACE for a London publisher. The book had a gentle tone and appealed to a mainstream audience, with serialisations in the Daily Express newspaper and Woman's Realm magazine. In my chapter on ecological eating I discussed alternatives to buying fast foods and used the name 'McDonalds' as a generic label for burger places.
HOME ECOLOGY was chosen for a national book promotion called the Green Book Fortnight in 1989 and in 1990 I was asked to be one of the judges.

Then we heard from McDonalds' solicitors:

Messrs Barlow Lyde and Gilbert to Karen Christensen, author,
15 March 1990:
We are instructed by McDonald's Corporation of Oak Brook, Illinois, U.S.A., who run the McDonalds Restaurant chain in the U.S.A. and elsewhere in the world, and by McDonald's Restaurants Limited, the company which operates the restaurants situated in the United Kingdom. We enclose a copy of a letter which has been sent to the Company Secretary of Arlington Books (Publishers) Ltd. as publishers of "Home Ecology" of which you are of course the author. We also enclose further copies of the enclosure to that letter. May we draw your attention to the contents of that letter and in particular to the request contained therein. We will require you to join with your publishers in making a statement in open court in the manner described and look forward to hearing from you within seven days of this letter.

Messrs Barlow Lyde and Gilbert to Arlington Books Limited, London:
We are instructed by McDonald's Corporation of Oak Brook, Illinois, U.S.A., who run the McDonalds Restaurant chain in the U.S.A. and elsewhere in the world, and by McDonald's Restaurants Ltd., the company which operates the restaurants situated in the United Kingdom.

Our attention has been drawn to the following passage on pages 45 to 46 of "Home Ecology" by Karen Christensen:-

"Fast Food Why do people to go McDonalds? They want something NOW, are in a hurry and don't want to spend much. Yet fast food restaurants contribute to the destruction of tropical rain forests (destroy forever in order to raise beef for a couple of seasons, until the soil is utterly depleted), contribute huge amounts of plastic and paper waste to the "disposal stream" and our streets, and give us proverbially unhealthy food to boot. International hamburger chains also tend to homogenise cultures (why on earth should we be able to eat the same American hamburger and french fries in Tokyo and Peking and Paris?)"

Our clients would naturally not agree with the sentiments expressed in this paragraph, and have instructed us to write to you in connection with the specific allegation that they contribute to the destruction of tropical rain forests in the manner described. This is in fact a gross defamation of our clients whose support for the conservation of wildlife and natural resources round the World is a major part of their business philosophy. We can do no better than to enclose a copy of our clients' corporate policy statement which confirms that they have never purchased meat from cattle reared in former rain forest areas anywhere in the world. This policy is and has been closely monitored and rigorously enforced. This defamatory allegation has been made on television, in the newspapers, and in books and apologies have been received from, for example, the BBC, the Independent and the Sunday Correspondence. HRH the Duke of Edinburgh, in his capacity as President of the World Wildlife Fund, acknowledged as long ago as 1984 that McDonald's was innocent of any involvement in tropical deforestation.

This allegation also appeared in the best selling Green Consumer Guide by John Elkington and Julia Hailes whose reputation as leading environmentalists is of course well known. The first edition of the Green Consumer Guide contained a similar defamatory allegation and, having had the true facts drawn to their attention, they have now revised the book and recognised that the association of our clients with the despoliation of tropical rain forests is totally erroneous. Further, Professor Ghillean Prance, Director of the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew and another leading expert on tropical rain forests, has written to our clients acknowledging that from all his experience and investigation into rain forests he recognises that our clients do not and have not permitted the destruction of the tropical rain forests for their beef supply anywhere in the world.

We have advised McDonalds that this allegation is defamatory in that they have a right to claim damages against your company and against Karen Christensen. However, our clients are prepared not to pursue their undoubted right to damages provided that we hear from you within seven days of the date of this letter as follows:

1. That "Home Ecology" will be immediately withdrawn from sale;

2. That the offending passage as referred to above will be revised to our clients' satisfaction before the book is put back on sale;

3. That your company should join with Karen Cristensen in making a statement in Open Court in a form approved by our clients, acknowledging that the defamatory allegation complained of is misconceived, apologising unreservedly to our clients and undertaking not to repeat it in the future either in the U.K. or anywhere in the world;

4. That our clients' legal costs will be paid on an indemnity basis. Pending resolution of this matter to our clients satisfaction their rights remain, of course, strictly reserved.

Accompanying this letter is a letter addressed to Karen Christensen. Could you please bring it to her attention immediately. A copy of this letter has been sent to all major booksellers in the U.K.

Enclosed: CORPORATE POLICY STATEMENT McDonalds is committed to establishing and enforcing responsible environmental practices in all aspects of our business.

As part of this commitment it is McDonalds policy to use only locally produced and processed beef in every country where we have restaurants. In those isolated areas where domestic beef is not available, it is imported from approved McDonald's suppliers in other countries. In all cases, however, McDonald's does not, has not and will not permit the destruction of tropical rain forests for our beef supply. We do not, have not and will not purchase beef from rain forest or recently deforested rain forest land. This policy is strictly enforced and closely monitored. Any McDonald's supplier who is found to deviate from this policy -- or who cannot prove compliance with it will be immediately discontinued.

Letter of March 26,1990 (publisher to McDonalds' lawyer)

Dear Sirs,
Further to your letter of 15th March concerning the reference to McDonalds on page 45 of Home Ecology, we wish to point out that the book does not contain a 'specific allegation that they [McDonalds] contribute to the destruction of tropical rain forests' as is asserted in paragraph 4 of your letter. We note the enclosed 'Corporate Policy Statement' which is undated, unsigned and unattributed. However, we have not desire to place ourselves in the position of a David to your client's Goliath and, in the interests of goodwill, and to settle the matter amiably we make the following response to the demands you make:

A bigger beef:

As book shops all over Britain mark Green Book Fortnight, where is Britain's best known green, Jonathan Porritt, in this high- profile promotion?

The answer is nowhere.

From The Times, London, 20 April 1990:
The definitive environmental manifesto, The Coming of the Greens, by the director of Friends of the Earth has aroused the wrath of the fast-food chain McDonalds. Porritt is critical of their employment policies, which has led the Big Mac people to fire off solicitors' letters. Another victim is Karen Christensen, whose Home Ecology also impugns the company's green credentials. A McDonald's 'corporate policy statement' affirms the company's concern for all things environmental. Publishers have had no choice but to suspend distribution."

AFTERWORD: My tiny publishers heard nothing further and no legal action was pursued against me (though it was against other authors at that time - in conversations that year with many British journalists and authors, I found many people who had 'apologies, and was never fully taken up again.

HOME ECOLOGY went out of print in the UK in 1993 (it is still in print in the US) but I am glad to say that a new version will be published, by a new publisher, next year (1995). There will be no mention of McDonalds in this edition, but I am donating part of the proceeds of the new edition to the McLibel campaign.