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19/10/00 . Rory Carroll in Rome . Guardian Weekly . UK
Italian Protesters Beef About Hamburgers
Riot police were mobilised on Monday to protect McDonald's restaurants as thousands of demonstrators in 20 Italian cities declared war on the fast-food chain.
In Milan marchers flung raw meat through police lines, splattering restaurant windows with blood. But most of the protests around the country were more peaceful, with crowds in Rome, Naples, Palermo and Turin chanting: "Better a day of tortellini than 100 days of hamburgers."
Organisers of the protests have said they will intensify their campaign, predicting that Italy will over take France in the strength of its opposition to the chain.
The government promised to draw up a charter of principles for multinational companies. The charter, to be agreed with trade unions, was intended to defuse hostility by acting as a "civic defender", said the industry minister, Enrico Letta. But, he added, "it would be a mistake to create a climate of tension. McDonald's is one of the few foreign companies bringing investment to our country."
A coalition of leftwing radicals, family-run bars and trade unions hopes to reverse, or at least slow down, McDonald's planned opening of 200 outlets in the next two years. It says the chain is destroying consumer choice, exploiting staff and selling unhealthy food.
McDonald's says that it is employing 15,000 young people and has become hugely popular with families since opening its first restaurant in Rome 15 years ago.
The countrywide protests were bolstered by controversy over the chain's treatment of staff. Last week 20 employees in Florence walked out in protest at an "intimidating" work climate.
The chain, which has 272 restaurants in Italy, suffered another blow when trade unions mobilised to defend five employees reprimanded for eating chocolate chips.
The Turin-based Slow Food movement, which champions traditional cooking and eating, joined the protests. Its spokesman, Silvio Barbero, told the Corriere della Sera newspaper: "It forces consumers to taste the same hamburger in Tokyo, New York, Helsinki and Palermo. A McDonald's hamburger doesn't evoke regional tastes or sensations, and its gastronomic origin is impossible to define."
Ghettoised for years with a combined market share of 5%, McDonald's and Burger King resolved to bring Italy up to the European average of 5%. Food purists said Italians would never succumb, but they were wrong, with pasta salads and pizza slices boosting the chains' popularity.