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07/02/03 . Dave Morris . The Times [submitted to] . UK
McLibel Letter to The Times
McLibel Defendant's letter to The Times (UK) - in response to article (below): 'All McDonald’s Sells is Burgers, Fries and Milkshakes. What Do Its Opponents Sell?'
Daniel Finkelstein (The Times, 31.12.02) picks up on the phenomenon of anti-McDonald's sentiment, and asserts that the company 'has no power over us at all', and that opposition just boils down to 'pernicious anti-Americanism'.
In our opening speeches in the historic 'McLibel' trial, we set out the case of campaigners against the Corporation for a full day, and I added in passing: 'I can say on behalf of both defendants there is no anti-American feeling of any kind whatsoever. The problem is multi-nationals and corporations.'
The trial became the longest in english history, a 313-day wide-ranging tribunal on the Corporation's business practices, focussing entirely on the company's effect on society, working conditions, children, the environment, animal welfare etc.
The High Court, not known for its 'pernicious anti-americanism', ruled that McDonald's marketing has "pretended to a positive nutritional benefit which their food did not match"; that they "exploit children"; are "culpably responsible for animal cruelty" and "pay low wages". The Appeal court added that it was fair comment that their employees worldwide "do badly in terms of pay and conditions", and true that "if one eats enough McDonald's food" this may well lead to "the very real risk of heart disease."
These damning rulings vindicate many of the arguments of the critics of McDonald's, and indeed the modern food industry generally. No-one should be surprised that there is growing opposition, including in the USA, to a powerful company which spends over £2 billion annually world-wide forcing its one-sided advertising on the public, including targetting vulnerable children.
There is a also great deal of community-based opposition to fast food outlets taking over local pubs and other residential sites. Mr Finkelstein should know this well - the residents of Harrow West where he recently stood for Parliament have been up in arms since 1999 against proposals for a McDonald's there. He was not elected.
The Times (UK); 31st December 2002
All McDonald’s Sells is Burgers, Fries and Milkshakes. What Do Its Opponents Sell?
When I was a teenager, I was delighted to see all those wonderful American ice-cream parlours begin to spring up all over London. On my first after-school visit I stood for ages in front of the counter, unable to decide which of the amazing new flavours to try first. After a while, the man who was serving me got fed up hovering with his scoop between the chocolate fudge and the mint choc chip. “Oh, for heaven’s sake,” he said, “it’s only a bloody ice-cream.”
He was quite right, of course. Yet some people wouldn’t agree with him. They think junk food is much more important than that. They think that it represents the decline of national identity, that it is an assault on the nation’s health, that it threatens the existence of the planet.
The supporters of these beliefs were out in force a few days ago when McDonald’s announced the first loss in its 47-year history. Its critics were exultant. Jenny McCartney told readers of The Sunday Telegraph that they were in the middle of a titanic struggle between good and evil food.
The writer Philip Hensher wrote that McDonald’s appears “malign”, that no one could possibly like its food and that people went there only so that they could feel American. And in an editorial that was at once both ridiculous and disgraceful, The Independent asserted that “there can be few Europeans who did not stifle a cheer for the French protester Jose Bove when he rode to prison on a tractor after his conviction for trashing a branch of McDonald’s”.
Every day millions of people eat food from McDonald’s, more than have ever read a copy of The Independent; more even than have been invited to edit it.
A dozen of the diners, at most, have heard of Jose Bove. Like me, millions just enjoy a quick, very pleasant, uncomplicated meal and like the fact that the restaurants are clean and utterly reliable.
Far from McDonald’s being some evil giant, I think its opponents are much more dangerous. All McDonald’s sells is burgers, fries and milkshakes. What do its opponents sell?
To start with, they sell the idea that we are all witless victims. If you eat too many meals at McDonald’s you become fat. In fact, if you eat too many meals, you become fat. The responsibility for this is entirely your own. I am overweight and I don’t blame anybody else. I have read of diets which tell me that I can eat all the protein I want, and diets that tell me I can eat all the fat I want, and I have been trying the two in combination. So sue me. But I’m not about to sue anybody else. McDonald’s is now being dragged through the courts by some obese children whose lawyers claim that it is liable for their condition. They are being encouraged in this absurd action by people who talk about McDonald’s “force-feeding” people burgers. They complain that the meals are fattening. Er, yes. Since the failure of the McBrocolli Happy Meal, you shouldn’t consume McDonald’s food at every meal if you want a fully balanced diet. If you do, it’s your lookout. We, the consumers, are in charge.
McDonald’s has no power over us at all. If it doesn’t please us, it is McToast. It follows that it has no responsibility for what we choose to eat.
McDonald’s opponents sell a pernicious form of anti-Americanism.
McDonald’s restaurants didn’t drive out Ye Olde British Fayre. They challenged horrible second-rate Wimpy bars and dirty “caffs” which were closed half the time. If McDonald’s were British, everyone would laud them. Indeed, if they originated almost anywhere else the opponents would laud them. I don’t spot these people heading down the North Circular to Neasden in balaclava hats chanting “Down with Swedish welfare state imperialism” and smashing in the windows of Ikea with a brown corduroy armchair.
They hate McDonald’s because it’s American. I, on the other hand, think that is a reason to like it, along with the American people, their fantastic contribution to pop culture and the fact that they have spent their money and sent their children to die to prevent this country being ruled by foreign dictators.
Extremist environmentalism is for sale, too. It is quite right to challenge McDonald’s continually to improve its environment and animal welfare record. It is not right at all to libel the company with suggestions that it is destroying the rainforest and taking food from the starving. Despite these allegations being shown in court to be untrue, opponents of McDonald’s continue to disseminate them.
Worst of all, however, is the way in which these people sell the idea that everything, even the most banal act, is political. They talk of “consumerism”, but there is no such thing. There is just consumption. I am not eating my burger for anybody, or against anybody or at anybody. Most of the time I don’t even eat it with anybody. I just eat it, that’s all. It’s not a symbol of anything.
For heaven’s sake, it’s only a bloody hamburger.