McLibel in Merrie Olde England
Date: Thu, 6 Oct 94 13:05:01 PDT
Subject: McLibel in Merrie Olde England
Forwarded-by: "firstname.lastname@example.org" <email@example.com>
[Summary: McDonald's is suing for Libel against some people who said
McDonald's food is bad for you. WWW links at the end point to stuff
including the original text that casued the hulabaloo.]
Forwarded-By: pauld@stowe (Paul Barton-Davis)
From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Moonchild)
Subject: McDonalds trial continues
Organization: Dept Computer Science, University of Manchester, U.K.
Date: Wed, 5 Oct 1994 17:10:21 GMT
Information from the McLibel Support Campaign, c/o London
Greenpeace, 5 Caledonian Road, London N1 9DX, UK (Tel/fax
3 October, 1994
+++++THE MCLIBEL TRIAL CONTINUES+++++
After several years of pre-trial hearings, the McDonalds libel
case against two unwaged campaigners - who were allegedly involved
in distribution in 1989/1990 of the London Greenpeace leaflet
"What's Wrong With McDonald's" - finally began at the end of
++++++REMINDER OF THE BACKGROUND++++++
A total of approximately 170 UK and international witnesses will
give evidence in court about the effects of the company's
advertising and the impact of its operating practices and food
products on the environment, on millions of farmed animals, on
human health, on the Third World, and on McDonald's own staff.
They will include environmental and nutritional experts, trade
unionists, McDonald's employees, customers and top executives.
McDonald's have claimed that wide-ranging criticisms of their
operations, in a leaflet produced by London Greenpeace, have
defamed them, so they have launched this libel action against two
people (Dave Morris & Helen Steel) involved with the group.
Prior to the start of the case, McDonald's issued leaflets
nationwide calling their critics liars. So Helen and Dave
themselves took out a counterclaim for libel against McDonald's
which will run concurrently with McDonald's libel action.
Helen and Dave were denied their right to a jury trial, at
McDonald's request. And, with no right to Legal Aid in libel
cases, they are forced to conduct their own defence against the
McDonald's team of top libel lawyers.
The trial is open to members of the press and public (Court 35,
Royal Courts of Justice, Strand, London WC2 - nearest Underground
Temple or Holborn) and is set to run until at least March 1995.
++++++++++++ NOW READ ON............ ++++++++++
++++++++++THE SIXTH AND SEVENTH WEEKS OF THE TRIAL
(weeks beginning 12 and 19 Sept) were taken up with
McDonald's witnesses on DIET & CANCER, ADDITIVES, DIET
& DIABETES, and MARKETING; and with a Defence witness
on ADVERTISING and NUTRITION.+++++++++++++++++++
DR SIDNEY ARNOTT: On 12 & 13th September, Dr Arnott (McDonald's
expert on cancer) returned to be cross-examined by the Defendants.
He argued that although there had been a great deal of research
into cancer the exact causes were not proven. He was not convinced
by the evidence linking a high fat/low fibre diet to cancers of
the breast and bowel, although he accepted that a high fat diet
was linked to heart disease, diabetes and also obesity (which he
agreed might increase the risks of some forms of cancer).
MODERN DIET LINKED TO CHRONIC DISEASES - The Defendants referred
him to the conclusions and recommendations of a wide range of
authoritative medical, scientific, advisory and governmental
bodies including the major 1990 World Health Organisation (WHO)
Report which stated "dietary factors are now known to influence
the development of ... heart disease, various cancers,
hypertension ... and diabetes. These conditions are the commonest
cause of premature death in developed countries. ...The
'affluent' type of diet that often accompanies economic
development is energy dense. People consuming these diets
characteristically have a high intake of fat (especially saturated
fat) and free sugars and a relatively low intake of complex
carbohydrates (from starchy, fibre-containing foods). Such diets
are well established in developed countries, and are now becoming
more common in most developing countries. ...This change in diet
can now be linked to the increasing incidence of chronic diseases
and of premature death. Evidence suggests that many of these
premature deaths should be preventable by changes in diet and in
other aspects of lifestyle. ...Their prevention or reduction is
both a social responsibility and an economic necessity." Dr
Arnott reluctantly admitted that the World Health Organisation was
"probably" the most influential health organisation in the world.
The Defendants quoted similar views linking diet with cancer from
one of McDonald's own booklets from 1985 (not displayed in their
stores), which Dr Arnott said was "reasonable" and "sensible"
"KISS OF DEATH" - In addition, the Defendants asked Dr Arnott's
opinion of the following statement: "A diet high in fat, sugar,
animal products and salt, and low in fibre, vitamins and minerals,
is linked with cancer of the breast and bowel and heart disease."
He replied: "If it is being directed to the public then I would
say it is a very reasonable thing to say." The court was then
informed that the statement was an extract from the London
Greenpeace Factsheet. This section had been characterised at
pre-trial hearings as the central and most "defamatory"
allegation, which if proven would be the "kiss of death"(*) for a
fast-food company like McDonald's. On the strength of the supposed
scientific complexities surrounding this issue the Defendants had
been denied their right to a jury.
(* -- Richard Rampton QC for McDonald's, Court of Appeal, 16th
STEVEN GARDNER: On 15th & 16th September Stephen Gardner, former
Assistant Attorney General of Texas, gave evidence for the
Defence. Mr Gardner told how, in April 1986, a number of States
including Texas held meetings with the major fast-food companies
in order to force them to comply with food labelling regulations.
They were told to provide ingredient and nutritional information
to customers about each product sold. He said that McDonald's had
been the most "recalcitrant" and "had to be dragged kicking and
screaming into the fold". Eventually general agreement was reached
and it was planned to make announcements to the press that the
information was available from all the major chains. McDonald's
told the Attorneys General that they needed more time before they
were ready. However, the company then issued a unilateral press
release claiming they were voluntarily pioneering a unique project
to provide this information. The huge public row which followed
lead to extensive press coverage attacking McDonald's deception.
An internal company memo sent out at that time was read to the
court which revealed that McDonald's had produced ingredient
brochures "to help blunt the growing interest of state and federal
lawmakers for ingredient labelling legislation".
ADVERTISING DECEIT - The former Assistant Attorney General
continued by explaining how, in the following year, McDonald's
began a major, but deceptive, advertising campaign. The company
claimed it was an "informational" campaign about the content of
their food. However, the company's own internal magazine stated
that the aim was "a long term commitment beginning with a
year-long advertising schedule" ... "to neutralise the junk food
misconceptions about McDonald's good food." The buzz words in
almost all the ads were "nutrition", "balance" and "McDonald's
good food". After the series of ads hit the news-stands, the
Attorney General of Texas, in conjunction with the two other major
states, wrote a letter to McDonald's on 24th April 1987 stating:
"The Attorneys General of Texas, California and New York
have concluded our joint review of McDonald's recent
advertising campaign which claims that McDonald's food is
nutritious. Our mutual conclusion is that this advertising
campaign is deceptive. We therefore request that
McDonald's immediately cease and desist further use of
this advertising campaign. The reason for this is simple:
McDonald's food is, as a whole, not nutritious. The intent
and result of the current campaign is to deceive customers
into believing the opposite. Fast food customers often
choose to go to McDonald's because it is inexpensive and
convenient. They should not be fooled into eating there
because you have told them it is also nutritious. ...The
new campaign appears intended to pull the wool over the
Mr Gardener also referred the court to some of the specific
examples of inaccuracies and distortions in the 16 individual
advertisements. He related how, after the three States had
threatened legal action if the ads were repeated, McDonald's
promised to stop the ads.
At the current trial McDonald's claim that the ads were not
dropped and were later printed again. However, of the four ads
they said had been run after the threats, three were not the
specific ads referred to in the complaints, one was not from the
original series of ads at all, and none mentioned "nutrition",
"balance" or "McDonald's good food".
PROFESSOR RONALD WALKER - ADDITIVES: McDonald's called Professor
Walker, their expert on additives and toxicology. The company uses
dozens of additives in its food. The Defendants have cited nine of
these (E110/Sunset Yellow, E124/Amaranth, E250/Sodium Nitrite,
E252/Potassium Nitrate, E320/BHA, E321/BHT, E407/Carrageenan,
621/Monosodium Glutamate, 924/Potassium Bromate) as potentially
detrimental to health; most of them are banned in one or more
Professor Walker explained that the main basis for permitting
additives as "safe" was that they had been tested on animals. (He
said tests on humans were unethical.) He admitted that animals had
a different metabolism to humans, that the small number of animals
used in each experiment would not reflect the vast diversity of
human situations, and that the results were not always consistent.
However, as a result of these tests an "Acceptable Daily Intake"
for humans is usually set.
Allergies. The animal tests, Professor Walker admitted, failed
to predict allergies and some other "intolerances", and he went on
to accept that many people (about "one in a thousand") were
allergic to the colouring additives E110 & E124. He stated there
was also "anecdotal" evidence that four of the additives provoked
hyperactivity in kids. His opinion was that food should be
properly labelled so that people could avoid the additives.
Professor Walker agreed that one of the nine additives, Potassium
Bromate, was known to be carcinogenic. It had been used in the
manufacture of all McDonald's bread buns until 1990 when it was
Walker also acknowledged that the basis for permitting the use of
additives varied from country to country, taking into
consideration "the balance of safety and need" (i.e. the food
industry's modern processing needs).
Styrene migration into food. Finally, Professor Walker agreed
that styrene can migrate from polystyrene packaging into food
(especially fatty foods). He said that the International Agency
for the Research on Cancer had classified styrene as possibly
carcinogenic to humans. Also styrene can be transformed in the
body into styrene oxide, which he said appeared to be much more
hazardous to human health. He said that more styrene from "the
polluted urban atmosphere" also gets into the body. He referred to
a survey which claimed that "100% of subjects studied in the USA
had detectable levels of styrene in their body fat".
ALISTAIR FAIRGRIEVE - MARKETING: Alistair Fairgrieve, McDonald's
UK Marketing Services Manager, outlined some of the research
undertaken by the company to discover what customers were thinking
and the effects of advertising, with the aim of increasing the
number of customers visiting McDonald's and the frequency of
visits. They are part of a fast food "syndicate" which does an
annual phone survey of eating habits of 60,000 people. They also
do their own "customer profile" questionnaires etc.
Mr Fairgrieve explained that questions were asked about seventeen
"functional" and "emotional" attributes which were "ranked in
terms of importance" to McDonald's. "At the top there are the ones
by which we stand or fall." At the bottom were four categories:
"Food is Filling", "Good Value For Money", "Use Top Quality
Ingredients", and finally "Nutritious Food".
Some interesting conclusions were reported for 1994: 91% agreed
that McDonald's was a "place kids enjoy", whereas only 47% a
"place adults enjoy" (up from 31% in 1992). Only 34% agreed it
"offers low price" and only 30% felt that it sold "nutritious
food" (up from 19% in 1992).
Advertising and "emotional pull". Fairgrieve explained how
the company boosted some of the lower percentages by building
people's "trust" and their "emotional pull" to the company - this
was achieved by "a repositioning of McDonald's as a brand in late
1992 and the launch of a new advertising theme". He later stated
"it is our objective to dominate the communications area ...
because we are competing for a share of the customer's mind".
Further interpretation of various survey results was hampered by a
lack of background information and statistics; Mr Fairgrieve was
told to return at a later date with such details.
PROFESSOR HARRY KEEN - DIET & DIABETES: On the links between diet
and diabetes, McDonald's called Professor Harry Keen, former chair
of the World Health Organisation's (WHO) Expert Committee on
Diabetes. He stated that diabetes and its complications are
estimated to affect about 5% of "western" populations. There were
two main types of diabetes. The more common type,
non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus, was usually diagnosed
after middle life. He said that obesity was shown to be clearly
linked with increased risk of this type of diabetes. He said that
"the link between obesity and diabetes development is universally
accepted". In general the whole UK population was becoming more
obese, and as physical activity falls (with use of cars etc)
people need to cut back even more on energy intake (fat is the
most concentrated form of energy in the diet).
The Defendants referred Professor Keen to sections of the 1990 WHO
Report on Diet, Nutrition and the Prevention of Chronic Diseases.
One extract suggested that the optimal percentage of food energy
obtained from dietary fat should be 15-20%. (UK governmental
recommendations are 30% - these were set as an "achievable" target
given the average current levels of fat intake which are much
higher. McDonald's have admitted that most of their main meals are
above even that figure.) Professor Keen said that "dietary factors
are now known to be associated with the development of a wide
range of chronic diseases", including heart disease, hypertension,
cancer and diabetes. His view of WHO reports was that they
"represent state of the art and the state of the scientific
opinion so they are regarded with considerable respect".
+++++++ The case continues. +++++++
+++++++MCLIBEL TRIAL DIARY+++++++++
The court has not been sitting during the week commencing 26th
EIGHTH WEEK (COMMENCING 3RD OCTOBER) - TO INCLUDE MORE ON DIET &
Monday 3rd October: Geoffrey Cannon (Defence expert witness -
diet and health)
Tuesday 4th October: Professor Michael Crawford (Defence expert
witness - diet and cancer & heart disease)
Wednesday 5th October: Professor Michael Crawford (continuation)
Thursday 6th October: Tim Lobstein (Defence expert - diet and
health, and nutrition)
Friday 7th October: Tim Lobstein (continuation); Richard Brown
(Defence expert witness - diet and heart disease)
The trial is open to members of the press and public, starting at
10.30am daily: Court 35, Royal Courts of Justice, Strand, London
WC2. (Please note that the nearest underground station - Aldwych
- is no longer even open in the rush hours; as part of the
continuing cut-backs in public transport provision in London, the
Holborn-Aldwych shuttle service has this month been closed "for
good". Please use Temple or Holborn - each is within walking
distance of the court.)
+++++++ CAMPAIGN STATEMENT: The McLibel Support Campaign was
set up to generate solidarity and financial backing for the
McLibel Defendants, who are not themselves responsible for
Campaign publicity. The Campaign is also supportive of, but
independent from, general, worldwide, grassroots
anti-McDonalds activities and protests.
Previous updates are available on the World Wide Web on Chris
Harrison's page at
or via Nick Fiddes pages at
Please distribute the update far and wide.
If you would like to receive weekly updates about the trial please
e-mail me at
© 1994 Peter Langston