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The McDonald's/McLibel Trial, Continued and Continued . . .

Guess Who's Still On Trial!

Helen Steel and Dave Morris refused to back down when junk-food giant McDonald's threatened take them to court for libel. The resulting court case began on June 28th 1994. No one could have predicted the course the trial has taken (see WRR32). "The McLibel Trial is now the longest running civil case in British history and is scheduled to last until next Summer", said the defendants in what has become known as the McLibel trial. "The reason it is taking so long is because McDonald's is trying to suppress a wide range of common sense views on matters of great public interest." These issues include: the links between diet and ill-health, the exploitation of low-paid non-unionised workers, the environmental damage caused by mountains of disposable packaging and by cattle ranching, the effects of advertising on children, and the suffering of animals reared for the food industry. Effectively the tables have been turned and it is McDonald's and their business practices that are on trial.

Ever since the Trial began, a stream of information damaging to the junk-food giant has emerged, both in the court room and elsewhere. Some highlights:

* McBrainwashing:

In the UK, McDonald's has produced a primary school teaching pack in which Ronald McDonald relates maths to counting cartons of French fries and geography to the location of its restaurants. Hard-up schools are resorting to free educational packs from McDonald's to teach children maths, geography and English. Use of the teaching aids -- packed with references to the hamburger giant -- was slammed as a "frightening intrusion". Some parents feel vulnerable children are being brainwashed.

More than 1,000 educational packs have already been sent to teachers unable to afford anything else. The teaching packs make obvious references to the hamburger chain. Some examples: Geography: Do you know where in England McDonald's restaurants are? Maths: Add up a collection of baskets of fries. English: Identify words like Chicken McNuggets, Happy Meals and milk shakes.

The National Confederation of Parent Teachers' Associations criticised the company for targeting young children. Membership secretary Belinda Yaxley said: "This is subliminal advertising, brainwashing of the most vulnerable people in our society". Mrs Yaxley, of Norwich, a mother of four, called for legislation to ban such a "frightening intrusion". She said that although the packs met all educational requirements, they also "rammed the message of McDonald's down children's throats".

* McRipoffs:

A former assistant manager, Simon Gibney, told the mammoth 'McLibel' hearing in the High Court how the world's biggest fast food chain:
- Watered down milkshakes, drinks, ketchup and mustard, then slashed portions of salad and cheese.
- Poured cooking fat away until drains overflowed and flooded the kitchens with two inches of stinking sewage.
- Broke employment laws by forcing staff under 18 to work past midnight when the restaurant was busy.
- Ordered other employees to work gruelling 18-hour shifts through the night without any overtime pay.
- Then, when trade was quiet, saved money by sending people home for having "long hair" or a "creased shirt".

Mr Gibney, 27, a graduate of McDonald's "Hamburger University", also told the court that customers would complain about partially raw meat in their burgers.

A former staff member of McDonald's in Australia reported that at the junk-food giant's store in Queen Street, Brisbane, staff were taught how, by holding pre-folded cardboard french fries' containers in a particular way when pouring fries into the cardboard containers, fries would fall into the containers at an angle which ensured that a minimum number of fries was required to make the containers appear full, saving McDonald's up to a third of the fries in a container of large fries. There was also a special technique for pouring sundaes so that an air bubble formed in the centre. Thus it appeared to customers that they were getting a container full to the brim, only to find a hollow centre -- a phenomenon which could be said to exemplify the whole McDonald's dining experience.

* McNipulating the Media

In the US, it was claimed that McDonald's "negotiated vital information" out of press releases released by government bodies. The Corporate Crime Reporter (Monday Oct 23, 1995) reported that McDonald's and Government bodies resolved a dispute over playground injuries at McDonald's stores, but the total number of injuries involved was not listed in the resulting press release. The US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and the US Dept. of Justice announced an agreement with McDonald's in which the junk-food chain will finance a $5 million safety campaign to be overseen by the CPSC and will report to the CPSC any future defects in playground equipment at its restaurant playgrounds.

A Consumer Product Safety Commission press release noted that "McDonald's became aware of numerous injuries, including broken bones, to children who played on the "Tug-N-Turn" merry-go-round rides installed between 1982 and 1987, but did not report the information to the CPSC." The press release did not quantify the injuries or broken bones. When asked by a reporter how many injuries and broken bones were sustained at the merry-go-rounds, CPSC spokesman Ken Giles said that he couldn't say. "Everything in this press release is carefully negotiated"he said. But when asked the same question CPSC general council Eric Rubel did answer, saying that there have been at least 104 reports of injuries to children, including at least 48 children with broken bones.

Rubel said that the press release "was discussed with McDonald's and we received comments from McDonald's on it." Rubel said that when reporters have asked about the injury figures, he has responded with the numbers. "I'm not aware of a draft of the press release going to McDonald's with injury numbers in it and the numbers subsequently being removed from the release." Rubel said. Rubel said that the Justice Department negotiated the settlement.

George Philips, head of the Justice Department's Office of Consumer Litigation, said he "did not think it was appropriate to include a line in the press release detailing the number and nature of the injuries given the cooperation that McDonald's had shown during the negotiation of the agreement." A monetary penalty of up to $5 million, more than three times the maximum fine provided by the act, is provided by the agreement for knowing failure to report future defects. To further ensure compliance with the agreement, McDonald's will perform regular safety audits of its restaurants.

* Big Mac is Watching Unions

McDonald's hostility towards trade unions and its exploitation of its workers has been exposed at the trial. Hassen Lamti, a current McDonald's crew member in Lyon (France) and a trade union representative related:
- how five McDonald's managers were arrested for trying to rig union elections in July 1994;
- how he was harassed for union activity - he was wrongly accused of making bomb threats to the store and of other criminal activities; an attempt was made to frame him for armed robbery, and McDonald's offered him a bribe if he renounced the union;
- how the union branch, now established, has so far won over 20 court judgments against the company to stop harassment and illegal business practices.

Anne Casey and Sean Mrozek, are former McDonald's workers and union activists from the historic, successful 1979 seven month McDonald's strike for union recognition at two stores in Dublin (Ireland). After the bitter strike ended with a labour court ruling that McDonald's should recognise the union, the main union activists were nevertheless sacked or otherwise victimised for union activity. Evidence was also been heard from a number of other Defence witnesses, ex-employees from the UK, Ireland, and USA, and also the General Secretary of the International Union of Foodworkers based in Geneva.

* "If it says sugarfree - don't even think about it!"

A sweetener called Aspartame, marketed as NutraSweet, Equal & Spoonful, is added to "diet" drinks sold to children at McDonald's stores. Multiple sclerosis and systemic lupus are often associated with the consumption of three or four diet drinks a day. In the keynote address at a World Environmental Conference, the American Environmental Protection Authority announced that there was an epidemic of these diseases, and they did not understand what toxin was causing this to be rampant across the nation. Betty Martini from "Operation Mission Possible" told the conference that she was there to lecture on exactly that subject.

She said that: "the wood alcohol in aspartame converts to formaldehyde and then formic acid, (ant sting poison) and causes metabolic acidosis. That methanol toxicity mimics multiple sclerosis and that people were being diagnosed with it in error. That multiple sclerosis was not a death sentence but that methanol toxicity is." Martini claimed that "systemic lupus has become almost as rampant, especially with Diet Coke or Diet Pepsi drinkers, also with methanol toxicity the victims usually drink three or four of them a day." "In the case of systemic lupus which is triggered by aspartame", she said, "the victim usually does not know that aspartame is the culprit and continues its use aggravating it to such a degree that sometimes it is life threatening. When we get people off aspartame, those with systemic lupus usually become asymptomatic but we can't reverse the disease."

"On the other hand" said Martini, "in the case of those diagnosed with MS when in reality its methanol toxicity most of the time all symptoms disappear. We've seen cases where their vision has returned and even their hearing has returned. It causes a good deal also of tinnitus." Martini warns: "If it says sugarfree - don't even think about it!"


* The German-language RTL television network, which broadcasts to most German-speaking areas of Europe (and is available elsewhere in Europe on satellite and cable), covered the McLibel trial on a programme called "Spiegel TV". A team from that programme spent several days in London preparing an item on the case. They talked to the Defendants and to other people involved in the McLibel Support Campaign. McDonald's UK refused to grant them an interview

* Protests against McDonald's have been staged at Melbourne, Australia, and in New Zealand. In Dunedin, New Zealand, on January 16 1996, the opening of a new McDonald's store was attended by a number of children and a group of protesters. Some protesters wore face paint and costumes. Their props included placards and a big stick with dead animals and bones attached. They chanted and made a lot of noise. Chants included 'McDeath, McLitter, McLibel', 'Eat clean and green, Don't eat McDonald's', 'Big Mac, Big Crap, McDonald's Milkshake, Chicken Fat', and 'You are what you eat, Don't eat McDonald's'. They also distributed leaflets with information about 'What's wrong with McDonald's' abbreviated from a British leaflet.

Would you like flies with that?

It seems that some Australian McDonald's branches have some bugs to iron out of their service if recent newspaper reports of cheeseburgers with 'extras' are anything to go by. Hot on the heels of a report from Newcastle (NSW) of maggots being discovered in a McDonald's cheeseburger served to a schoolgirl, the Bankstown local newspaper, The Torch, carried details of another young girl getting an unexpected free gift with her meal.

The half-page article appears under the headline "Not so McHappy over hamburger" on page 5 of the December 27 edition and contained the following excerpts:

A father said he would 'go for the maximum payout' in a compensation suit against the McDonald's Bass Hill store over claims he found a spider in his hamburger. Mr Zeljko Golijan's claim follows a visit to the restaurant on the Hume Highway on the afternoon of October 12. The cheeseburger had been unwrapped, Ana (his daughter) went to pick it up to bite into it, and as she put her hands in the region of the hamburger, the spider came out from the burger. "I put a drink container on top of the spider and called for the manager", he said. [The Torch}

The manager, after being told of the incident, said that he didn't see any spider." I then lifted up my drink to reveal the spider. The manager saw it, had it killed and thrown in the rubbish." His daughter complained after the incident that her "finger was hurting."

She was taken to a medical centre and given a referral to Camperdown Children's Hospital (quite a distance away), however Mr Golijan took her home instead and monitored her condition. These hours of checking young Ana were stress ridden and would be the centre of his compensation claim. "Apart from coughing and sneezing a few times, in the end she was fine." But for the next couple of weeks "She was waking up saying there were spiders and snakes in her bed." The Torch spoke to John Blyth, communications manager for McDonald's. "McDonald's is not prepared to accept that it was in any way at fault," he said."The (store) manager offered to replace or refund the man's meal." He said that one of these offers was taken up by Mr Golijan. Mr Blyth said Mr Golijan and his family are invited to a store inspection and to be the guest of the restaurant for a meal. "Beyond that, we wouldn't expect the matter to go any further." [
The Torch]

As with the Newcastle complaint, Health Department inspectors later gave the Bass Hill franchise a clean bill.

If this case does get to court, some defences that McDonald's won't be using ...

"The spider was included in the cheeseburger in response to customer concerns about maggots."

"You say that you are bringing this action as a responsible parent, worried about the effects on your daughter's health of receiving a meal containing a spider, and yet you purchased this meal for her knowing full well that it contained a McDonald's cheeseburger!"

Source: Taken from email bulletins of the McLibel Support Campaign, 5 Caledonian Rd., London N1 9DX. Tel/Fax: 0171 713 1269

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