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10/01/03 . BY SANDRA GUY Business Reporter . Chicago Sun Times . USA
McDonald's/Vegetarian Lawsuit 'Settlement' Controversy Continues
1. Lawyer hits McD on suit settlement process [Chicago Sun Times]
2. McDonald's Attacks Vegetarian Leaders [www.vegsource.com]
3. Vegetarians Challenge McDonald's Payout
1. Lawyer hits McD on suit settlement process
McDonald's Corp.'s efforts to settle a lawsuit over its misrepresentation of animal-fat content in french fries and hash browns are running afoul of the very people the settlement was meant to appease. McDonald's agreed in June to donate $10 million to Hindu, vegetarian and other groups to settle lawsuits filed against the Oak Brook fast-food chain for mislabeling french fries and hash browns as vegetarian. The vegetable oil used to prepare the fries and hash browns was not pure but contained essence of beef for flavoring.
The list of more than 20 groups that McDonald's proposes to receive the $10 million has outraged the lawyer and the plaintiffs in the original suit, who contend the groups oppose Hindu, vegetarian and animal-rights values. McDonald's was first sued over the french fries by three vegetarians, including two Hindus who for religious reasons do not eat meat.
Harish Bharti, the Seattle attorney who filed the original lawsuit on May 1, 2001, does not oppose the $10 million settlement itself. But he accused McDonald's of initially trying to pressure him to keep the settlement secret from his clients and to keep the list secret from groups that asked if they were on it. He objected.
Bharti also said the other "copycat" lawyers who joined the lawsuit worked in league with McDonald's. The copycat lawyers have been fired by their clients, who are vegetarians and Hindus who filed lawsuits in Texas and Illinois, he said.
"I have been fighting [McDonald's and the other lawyers] to maintain my ethics," said Bharti, who described himself in a telephone interview as a Hindu Brahmin who is committed to following the religion's teachings. McDonald's Corp. issued a statement late Thursday calling the settlement process "a fair and open-door process directed by the court."
"All interested parties had an equal opportunity to participate in the discussions and deliberations, including Mr. Bharti," according to the statement. "He also was apprised of the proposed recipient list." "McDonald's is committed to following the court's direction," according to the statement. Bharti is asking Cook County Circuit Court Judge Richard Siebel to remove McDonald's and all lawyers, including himself, from the settlement process and to appoint an independent special master or group to decide which groups should receive the settlement money.
"No one should be rejected because they stood up against McDonald's," Bharti said. He said McDonald's has ignored his recommendations about groups that deserve money from the settlement.
Vegetarian and animal-rights groups also object to McDonald's list of recipient groups and researchers. Officials with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) are fighting a proposed grant to a researcher at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who it says wants to use money to promote anti-vegetarian diets. Steve Zeisel, the researcher, wants to use his share of the settlement to study whether women on strict vegetarian diets get enough of the nutrient choline, which is abundant in eggs, during pregnancy, according to PETA.
"The money is supposed to be earmarked for vegetarian groups," said Hannah Schein, a research associate for Norfolk, Va.-based PETA. "He (Zeisel) doesn't represent a vegetarian group. If anything, he recommends that pregnant women not be vegetarian."
McDonald's originally responded to the lawsuits by saying it never claimed the french fries it sells in the United States are vegetarian. But McDonald's apologized for any confusion surrounding the use of beef flavoring.
McDonald's is supposed to distribute $6 million to vegetarian organizations, $2 million to Hindu or Sikh groups, and the remaining money to help better feed children and to promote understanding of Jewish kosher practices.
The next hearing in the case takes place Monday in Chicago.
2. McDonald's Attacks Vegetarian Leaders (in cahoots with copycat lawyers)
LOS ANGELES -- Vegetarians sued McDonald's for not disclosing that their "vegetarian" French fries actually contained beef. In response, McDonald's apologized and agreed to make a $6 million donation to non-profit vegetarian organizations. At least that's what McDonald's said and agreed in writing it would do.
Now McDonald's has filed a brief asking the judge in the matter not to hold them to their promise, but to instead allow them to give the money to non-vegetarian and anti-vegetarian organizations -- and to "vegetarian organizations" whose nutritionists recommend meat, chicken, fish and shrimp.
And in response to the many beloved bestselling vegetarian authors, medical doctors and leaders who have petitioned the court not to permit McDonald's to subvert the settlement agreement, McDonald's -- along with the lawyers supposedly representing vegetarians -- attack these esteemed individuals, telling the judge they are all disgruntled "zealous radicals" motivated by "greed."
In our original article called Sleeping With the Enemy (sent out on the McLibel list earlier), VegSource previously covered this scandal in detail. In short, McDonald's -- with the support of the "copycat" plaintiff attorneys who were fired by their vegetarian clients -- is attempting to steer much of the settlement money they explicitly agreed would go to "vegetarian organizations . . . dedicated to the values of vegetarianism" -- instead to organizations which are hostile to vegetarianism.
The most recent developments show McDonald's and the copycat attorneys filing large briefs full of personal insults and name-calling against esteemed vegetarian leaders like John Robbins, Michael Klaper MD, John McDougall MD, T. Colin Campbell PhD, Alex Hershaft PhD, Mark Epstein, Joanne Stepaniak, Jack Norris, Matt Ball, Gene and Lorri Bauston, Stanley Sapon PhD and many others.
First McDonald's lied by saying their fries contained no beef, now they're trying to betray vegetarians a second time, by reneging on their promise to donate money to vegetarian groups. They argue to the court they should be able to give this money instead to non-vegetarian and even anti-vegetarian organizations, so long as those organizations merely promise to do "vegetarian research" with the money.
The only support in the vegetarian community that McDonald's and the copycat lawyers were able to present to the court comes from the Vegetarian Resource Group (VRG). VRG submitted the only declaration in support of the proposal, even endorsing the money earmarked to go to the anti-vegetarian animal researcher at University of North Carolina -- a researcher who seeks to prove his personal hypothesis that the vegan diet is very unsafe for pregnant women, who need to eat eggs when pregnant in order to get sufficient choline. (This is the same animal researcher who usually does research supported by the Egg Board -- who VRG supports.) If the McDonald's proposal is approved, VRG stands to receive $1.4 million from it.
Elie Wiesel is often quoted as saying, "Take sides, neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim." Another oft' repeated line is: "Silence is consent." Unfortunately, the North American Vegetarian Society (NAVS) -- which stands to receive $1 million if this corrupt McDonald's allocation goes through -- decided to remain silent and not use their special position in the matter to raise questions, or to educate the judge to help prevent a miscarriage of justice. NAVS is well aware that anti-vegetarian groups will benefit if this proposal goes through. I guess for some it's easier to look the other way when vegetarianism is getting mugged -- especially when the mugger is giving you a share.
It's one thing to claim to be an "ethical" vegetarian; but actions speak far louder than words. Let us hope that McDonald's and VRG -- as well as NAVS and any other organization with special position which chose silence over ethics -- do not succeed in deceiving the judge into approving this corrupt proposal.
3. Vegetarians Challenge McDonald's Payout
DES MOINES, Iowa - Some vegetarians, including the lead lawyer in the matter, are challenging how McDonald's Corp. will distribute $10 million to settle the mislabeling case involving beef-flavored french fries.
An Illinois Circuit Court judge in Chicago is to hear arguments next Monday on who should receive the money and why.
The Seattle attorney who brought the original lawsuit against the fast-food giant, Harish Bharti, said he will object to the company's list of proposed recipients in part because the selection process had been "rigged," favoring those who either don't represent the majority of vegetarians or who are sympathetic to McDonald's.
"I am deeply concerned that the funds not be allocated to a relatively small number of interest groups determined by ... lawyers with personal preferences or prejudices unrelated to the actual needs and concerns of the class members," Bharti said in a brief.
Bharti wants the court to appoint an impartial third party to draw up a new recipients' list.
Objections to the settlement distribution also have been filed by the operator of a Web site for vegetarians, www.VegSource.com. Jeffrey A. Nelson contends some would-be recipients are "in fact anti-vegetarian."
Some, Nelson said, had publicly opposed bringing a class-action lawsuit against McDonald's for representing its fries and hash browns as being vegetarian when they were, in fact, cooked in beef-flavored oils.
To settle the matter, McDonald's, based in Oak Brook, Ill., issued an apology and agreed to pay $10 million — 60 percent to vegetarian groups, 20 percent to Hindu and/or Sikh organizations, 10 percent to children's nutrition and hunger relief efforts and 10 percent to those promoting the understanding of Kosher foods and dietary practices.
Besides various vegetarian groups, three universities — Tufts, Loma Linda in California and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill — would divide $1.3 million, according to the list before the court.
Responding to complaints over the choice of recipients, McDonald's filed a brief saying that some complaints are "substantive but many ... fall into the category of petty gripes or sour grapes over not receiving funds ... When distributing a large sum of money, it is impossible to please every potential grant recipient or interested party," the company said.
Of Nelson's complaint, McDonald's said in the brief that it "reflects
intramural squabbling within the vegetarian community about tactics for achieving vegetarian aims."