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24/08/02 . Andrew Osborn . Guardian . UK
New from McDonald's: the McAfrika burger (don't tell the 12m starving)
McDonald's has been accused of extreme insensitivity after releasing a new sandwich called the "McAfrika" in Norway, one of the world's richest countries, at a time when 12 million people are facing starvation in southern Africa.
The launch of the new hamburger has infuriated the Norwegian equivalent of Christian Aid and the Norwegian Red Cross and generated a storm of bad publicity for the American fast-food giant.
The concoction of beef, cheese, tomatoes and salad in a pitta-style sandwich is said to be based upon an authentic African recipe and is being sold to Norwegian consumers for about £2.80.
But aid agencies trying to raise funds to stave off a famine in southern Africa say that the timing of the McAfrika marketing campaign is insensitive, crass and ill-considered and have demanded remedial action from McDonald's.
"It's inappropriate and distasteful to launch a hamburger called McAfrika when large portions of southern Africa are on the verge of starvation," Linn Aas-Hansen of Norwegian Church Aid told the newspaper Aftenposten.
Protesting members of the aid group have been doling out "catastrophe crackers" - the protein-rich biscuits given to starving people in Africa - to fast-food lovers outside the firm's restaurants in Oslo.
"Twelve million people are suffering from starvation in countries such as Malawi and Zimbabwe; it is one of the biggest humanitarian disasters we have ever seen. We have nothing against McDonald's but the timing of this is insensitive," said Gunstein Instesjord, a senior policy advisor at Norwegian Church Aid.
"McDonald's must see that the launch has not been successful."
Aware that it has a public relations embarrassment on its hands, McDonald's Norway has been quick to launch a damage limitation exercise, making conciliatory noises in the Norwegian media.
Margaret Brusletto, a spokeswoman for the company, said she was sorry the name of the product had offended many.
"That wasn't our intention," she told Aftenposten. "We acknowledge that we have chosen an unfortunate time to launch this new product."
Faced with mounting protest about the new McAfrika, she initially said the company would "consider" a request to share proceeds from its sales with aid agencies but a meeting with the Norwegian Red Cross and others produced no such agreement.
Nor has McDonald's agreed to withdraw the offending product from sale.
But it has offered to allow aid agencies to leave collection boxes and fundraising posters in its Norwegian restaurants - but only in those selling McAfrika burgers and only for as long as the "special promotional burger" remains on sale.
In a statement issued to the Guardian from its UK head office in East Finchley yesterday, McDonald's said: "All of the involved parties are happy with this solution. We hope this will put a wider focus on the important job that these organisations are doing, and McDonald's in Norway is pleased to be able to support this."