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12/01/03 . By Severin Carrellv . Independent . UK
McDonald's to sell organic milk
The burger chain McDonald's, shunned by Britain's health-conscious middle classes, is to wrongfoot its critics by selling organic semi-skimmed milk.
The move, which has split environmentalists and food campaigners, is the ailing multi-national's latest attempt to shake off its reputation for unwholesome junk food.
From February, it will sell only organic milk, in 250ml bottles bearing the logo of the Soil Association, the UK's main organic food accreditation body.
The chain claims that by the end of the year it will have sold more than 5.6 million bottles, making the home of the Big Macone of Britain's largest suppliers of organic milk. Organic desserts may follow.
McDonald's is currently enduring the worst period in its history. Faced with the collapse in sales of burgers after the BSE crisis, a surge in consumer demand for fresh sandwiches, and a price war with its competitors, it has just announced the first losses in its 47-year history.
Despite updating its menu to include more chicken and fish dishes, its first vegetarian burger and a series of ethnic food promotions, the chain is to close 175 restaurants worldwide, including at least six in London. McDonald's began flirting with organic foods last summer, shortly after it announced that it had bought a 33 per cent stake in the thriving, upmarket sandwich and sushi chain Pret A Manger. In July, McDonald's UK chief executive, Andrew Taylor, visited the Prince of Wales's showcase organic farm at Highgrove in Gloucestershire.
The company introduced free-range eggs two years ago and sponsored a research project to find a middle way between organic and conventional farming. But its new initiative has been met with hostility by Dave Morris, one of two environmental activists sued by McDonald's for defamation in 1994.
"If this is being trumpeted as recognition that chemicals used in agri-business pose a serious health risk, then what about the routine use of antibiotics in factory farming and pesticides to produce animal feed?" he said. But Patrick Holden, the director of the Soil Association, said the organisation was pleased that organic produce was being taken up by such a large mainstream fast-food corporation, although he remained doubtful about the significance of the move.
"Many of us have profound concerns about the fast food giants and the way they've compromised the nutritional integrity of the foods they sell," he said.
"If McDonald's or any other fast food company wants to restore their tarnished
image, they will probably have to go much further than that. Only when their
core products come from certified organic farms will we be tempted back into