Hindus, Sikhs, veggies settle suit vs. McDonald’s
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, April 2002:
SEATTLE, AHMEDABAD– With smoke still rising from the ruins
of Muslim neighborhoods in Ahmedabad, India, neither the McDonald’s
Corporation nor Seattle attorney Harish Bharti and his 12 Hindu,
Sikh, and vegetarian clients wanted any more trouble.
As Ahmedabad cremated the remains of 56 Hindus killed when
Muslim militants torched a train on March 1, and buried the remains
of more than 400 Muslims killed the next day in retaliatory attacks
by Hindu mobs, McDonald’s agreed to pay $6 million to vegetarian
groups, yet to be named, and $4 million to charities serving
Hindus, Sikhs, children’s nutritional needs, and kosher dietary
McDonald’s also agreed to more extensively and formally
apologize for failing to disclose for years that its French fries are
passed through a beef broth steam for flavoring during pre-cooking
preparation, before distribution to McDonald’s restaurants.
The apology is to appear as an ad in at least six
publications, the Chicago Tribune revealed, naming Veggie Life,
Hinduism Today, and India Tribune. McDonald’s will not acknowledge
fault, but will admit that “Mistakes were made in communicating to
the public and customers about the ingredients in our French fries
and hash browns. Those mistakes included instances in which French
fries and hash browns sold at U.S. restaurants were improperly
identified as ‘vegetarian,'” reported Sara Jean Green of the Seattle
After McDonald’s announced with great fanfare in 1990 that it
would henceforth cook French fries only in vegetable oil, Hindus,
Sikhs, and other vegetarians around the world mistakenly assumed
that McDonald’s fries were suitable for their diets. Only after
Bharti filed the first of five lawsuits against McDonald’s in May
2001 did the use of beef fat as a flavoring agent become general
Not until August 20, 2001 did McDonald’s announce it would
begin revealing whether so-called “natural flavorings” are of dairy,
meat, or vegetable origin.
The details are now posted at
The parties to the McDonald’s settlement made no public
reference to the Ahmedabad rioting, but an anonymous online news
commentator speculated that part of the deal might involve opening a
Ronald McDonald children’s burn clinic in Ahmedabad, where most of
the dead and injured were women and children.
Still, Bharti and the McDonald’s legal staff must have
thought of Ahmedabad as they sought a way out of their conflict.
Bharti emigrated to the U.S. from Patiala, Punjab, India,
in 1984–the year that the late Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi
sent troops to evict heavily armed Sikhs from the Golden Temple at
Amritsar. Thousands of Sikhs and Hindus were killed in the fighting
that followed. More than 50,000 Sikhs were displaced when their
homes were burned. Indira Gandhi herself was assassinated by two
McDonald’s was not involved in the Ahmedabad rioting, which
broke out after trainloads of fundamentalist Hindu nationalists
jeered Muslims as they passed through Muslim neighborhoods on their
way to try to build a temple on the site of a mosque in Ayodah that a
Hindu mob demolished in 1992. More than 1,200 people were killed in
the bombings and riots that followed the mosque demolition.
McDonald’s franchises in India were, however, flashpoints
for minor rioting in 1996, when a rumor spread that the then newly
opened restaurants would sell beef hamburgers, and again in 2001 as
the use of beef fat to flavor fries became known. McDonald’s
insisted that beef fat has never been used to flavor fries sold in
India, but protesters stormed franchises in Mumbai and Thane anyway
to “purify” them with cow dung.
“I’m not happy with the $10 million and wish I could do
better in terms of money, ” Bharti said. “But our focus was to
change the fast food industry. This is a big victory for the 16
million vegetarian consumers in the U.S.”
Even before reaching settlement with Bharti, McDonald’s
moved to reduce the potential for future misunderstandings with
Indians and Indian/Americans by dropping the mutton “Maharajah Mac”
from its Indian restaurant menus. A Big Mac lookalike, the
“Maharajah Mac” reportedly never sold well, and had already been
dropped by three of the 100 McDonald’s franchises in India.
Animal slaughter is a perennial flash point for trouble in
India, where cattle slaughter is associated with Muslims, pork
slaughter with lower-caste Hindus, and sacrificial slaughter of
sheep, goats, birds, and wildlife with other forms of minority
worship. Kali-worshippers, who are the most numerous practitioners
of animal sacrifice, are considered part of mainstream Hinduism.
Their practices parallel those of kosher and halal slaughter. The
other practitioners of animal sacrifice, commonly called “tribals,”
are believed to be carrying out remnants of pre-Hindu ritual.
As the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Dal coalition
ruling India since 1998 lost strength through a series of by-election
defeats in late 2001 and early 2002, supporters sought to rebuild
popularity in Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, and Bihar states by
cracking down on cow slaughter. At urging of National Commission on
Cattle acting chair Guman Mal Lodha, Bihar animal husbandry
department secretary Phool Singh on March 1 announced that his
department would at last set up a state animal welfare board that was
supposedly mandated by legislation passed in 1950, 1953, and 1960.
Singh acknowledged, said Times of India reporter
Sachchdanand Jha, that only 1.8% of the Bijar animal welfare budget
was actually funded, inhibiting the ability of officials to do
anything about the illegal cattle slaughter traffic.
The first major incident of animal sacrifice of 2002 came at
the village of Tumbigere, near Bavanagere, on January 15.
According to the Times of India, “Eyewitnesses said 10 buffalo,
about 600 sheep, and more than 2,000 chickens were offered to
Goddess Oodalambika,” a local deity, “right under the nose of
The killing represented a revival of the sacrificial orgy
after a 10-year lapse, Times of India reported.
Near Bangalore on February 8, animals were not brought out
and killed until after a police delegation left. Then, wrote
Stanley G. Pinto of the Times of India, “”thousands of fowl and pigs
were slaughtered by a frenzied mob” outside the Sri Parivara
Panchalingesh-wara temple at Panja, Sullia taluk.
But the Deccan Herald on March 15 reported that, “The Mysore
district administration, the police, and animal rights activists
foiled the planned sacrifice of thousands of animals by devotees at
Bandasaramma Temple at Talkad. This is the first time,” the Deccan
Herald said, “that the cruel practice was stopped.” The effort
involved more than a week of persuasion by animal advocates who
camped nearby, backed up by 700 police.
The annual Eid al-Adha or “Day of Atonement” slaughter,
practiced by Muslims around the world as the start of a fast-breaking
feast, passed on February 21 with few unusual incidents. Flooding
reportedly cut the slaughter toll by 30% in Jakarta, Indonesia, and
as many as 1,000 Turks and 40 Tunisians who tried to kill sheep and
goats injured themselves so badly as to require hospital treatment,
according to Agence France-Presse.
Swiss economic minister Pascal Couchepin announced on March
14 that his government had withdrawn a bill to amend an 1893 ban on
animal sacrifice, including kosher and halal slaughter, as to push
it would “risk ruptures in denominational peace.”
Said Alfred Donath, head of the Swiss Federation of Israeli
Communities, “We’re disappointed, but we didn’t think that
Switzerland was mature enough to put itself on the same level as
European countries which admit that religious freedom should be put
ahead of the protection of animals.”
His attitude stood in contrast to that of the German Central
Council of Muslims, after the German Federal Constitutional Court on
January 15 overturned a 1995 federal court ruling that prohibited
Ruling on behalf of Turkish immigrant butcher Rustem
Altikupe, of Giessen, the Federal Constitutional Court held that
freedom of religion trumps the legal requirement that animals must be
stunned before being killed. Rushing to reassure Germans who care
about animals, the Central Council of Muslims explained, “We
believe that religious slaughter according to Islamic rules is the
most humane method of killing the animal.”
The kosher and halal slaughter methods were indeed developed
and prescribed in ancient times to minimize animal suffering during