Ruling could damage company's image

UK Telegraph; Friday 20 June 1997

THE judge in the McLibel case ruled that McDonald's was culpably responsible for cruel practices in the rearing and slaughter of some animals used to produce their food.

The ruling could have damaging implications for the company's attraction to young children, at whom much advertising is aimed.

Mr Justice Bell, ruling in the High Court on the company's action for libel against David Morris and Helen Steel, two environmental activists, also found that the defendants had proved some of their allegations against McDonald's on advertising, diet and pay. But he found that they had not proved many of their major charges. Return to top

Cruelty to animals:
The judge said hens which produce eggs for McDonald's "spend their whole lives in battery cages without access to open air or sunlight and without freedom of movement".

He did not find the lack of open air or sunshine cruel "but the severe restriction of movement is cruel". A large number of chickens "are still fully conscious when they have their throats cut" and some were roughly handled when taken for slaughter and suffered pre-stun electric shocks while alive. Return to top

Mr Justice Bell found that Steel and Morris were wrong to claim that the company used gimmicks to cover up the true quality of their food. But their charge that McDonald's exploits children in their advertising was true. Return to top

Starvation in the Third World:
The judge said claims that McDonald's caused starvation in the Third World through buying vast tracts of land in poor countries and evicting small farmers, and forcing Third World countries to export food such as beef and staple crops for cattle feed "are not, and never had been, true". Return to top

Destruction of rain forests:
The leaflet claimed that McDonald's used poisons to destroy vast areas of Central American rain forest to create grazing for cattle which ended up as burgers. It also alleged that the company's packaging took 800 square miles of forest a year. All these claims "are not, and never had been, true". Return to top

Recycled paper and litter:
The leaflet alleged that McDonald's claimed to use recyled paper but used only "a tiny per cent" and that tons of McDonald's paper ended up as litter.

The judge ruled that in the late 1980s McDonald's in America and Britain used "a small but neverthless significant proportion of recycled fibre". The allegation was not true. He said that McDonald's was not to blame for litter but "the inconsiderate customer". Return to top

Diet, heart disease and cancer:
The leaflet claimed that McDonald's food was unhealthy and the company deceived customers by claiming that it was nutritious.

The judge found that MacDonald's food was high in fat, including saturated fat, salt and animal products. In the past it had been low in fibre.

Such a diet sustained over very many years "probably does lead to a very real risk of heart disease". That would apply to a small proportion who ate McDonald's food several times a week, "if they continue to do so throughout their lives" encouraged by McDonald's advertising.

It had not been proved that such a diet led to a very real risk of cancer of the breast or bowel, though it might increase the risk. There was no risk from an occasional meal at McDonald's, as the leaflet implied. The judge said: "It has not been shown that McDonald's food is low in vitamins or minerals. It follows that McDonald's food is not very unhealthy as stated in the leaflet."

He did find that various McDonald's advertisments and publications had "pretended a nutritional benefit" in food which it did not have. Return to top

Food poisoning:
The leaflet had claimed that McDonald's exposed their customers to a serious risk of food poisoning. The judge found that that was not true. Return to top

Leaflet allegations that McDonald's restaurants paid only low wages to its staff were true, the judge found. They did, "helping to depress wages for workers in the catering trade in Britain". But McDonald's did not exploit the disadvantaged.Return to top

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