McDonalds 'Deceived Customers'

James Erlichman

The Guardian, September 16, 1994

THE fast food chain, McDonald's, was accused yesterday of deliberately hoodwinking customers and competitors by pretending it was first to declare voluntarily the ingredients of its foods.

The truth was very different, Stephen Gardner, former assistant attorney general of Texas, told the High Court.

He was appearing as a witness for Helen Steel, and David Morris, two unemployed environmentalists dubbed the McLibel 2, who are being sued for libel by McDonald's over a crudely printed leaflet they are alleged to have handed out in London called "What's Wrong with McDonald's". Its core allegation was that diets heavy in so -called junk foods like McDonald's had been scientifically linked with breast cancer and bowel and heart disease.

Asked whether McDonald's deserved any praise for being first to put ingredient and nutrition brochures in its shops, Mr Gardner, who was in charge of consumer protection for Texas, said: "McDonald's deserved nothing. Figuratively speaking they had to be dragged kicking and screaming into the fold."

Mr Gardner, now a law professor, told the court that the attorneys general of Texas, California and New York concluded in 1986 that McDonald's was among five big fast food chains which were violating federal law for failing to disclose the ingredients of their foods.

The chains were warned they faced court action, and four - Burger King, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Wendy's and Jack-in-the-Box - agreed to provide the information in brochures available at all branches.

But McDonald's held out until the following month when it issued a press statement launching its brochures, making no mention of legal pressure or industry-wide co-operation, the court heard. "They tried to represent that they were doing it all on their own," said Mr Gardner. "I conclude they intentionally deceived the attorneys general of Texas and California so they could intentionally deceive the people of our states that they voluntarily and unilaterally produced the brochure."

Less than a year later McDonald's was again in trouble for claiming in a US advertising campaign that their foods were "nutritious". The attorneys general demanded it be dropped. They said: "Our mutual conclusion is that this advertising campaign is deceptive. McDonald's food is, as a whole, not nutritious."

The trial continues.

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