McDonald’s to pay $10 million to veg groups for steaming fries and hash browns in beef fat
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, July/August, 2002:
CHICAGO, MIAMI–Will $10 million donated by McDonald’s
Restaurants to U.S. vegetarian groups help veggie activists to
promote the new Burger King BK Veggie sandwich?
That will not be known until after August 22, when Cook
County Circuit Judge Richard Siebel is to make his final ruling on a
proposed settlement of a series of class action lawsuits brought
against McDonald’s in May 2001 by Seattle attorney Harish Bharti, on
behalf of Hindus, Sikhs, and other vegetarians who unknowingly ate
fries and hash browns that were steamed in beef fat.
According to a notice Bharti sent in June 2002 to the class
action plaintiffs, including ANIMAL PEOPLE staff, “The Action
alleges that McDonald’s provided false and misleading nutritional
information to consumers by failing to disclose that its French fries
and hash browns contain a small amount of beef flavoring and thus are
not vegetarian,” despite representations since July 1990 that
McDonald’s fries and hash browns are cooked only in vegetable oil.
According to McDonald’s, fries and hash browns sold in India
were not steamed in beef fat, but those sold elsewhere apparently
were and are.
“McDonald’s denies the allegations made in the Action, and
denies any and all liability,” the notice from Bharti continues.
“Further, McDonald’s denies that plaintiffs are entitled to any
relief whatsoever. The Court has not decided in favor of either
plaintiffs or McDonald’s. However, McDonald’s has reached a
settlement with the plaintiffs.
“As part of the settlement,” the Bharti notice stipulates,
“McDonald’s has agreed to 1) donate $10 million to charitable
organizations in the following percentages: vegetarianism (60%);
Hinduism and/or Sikhism (20%); children’s nutrition and/or
children’s hunger relief (10%); and promotion of the understanding
of Jewish law, standards and practices with respect to Kosher foods
and dietary practices (10%); 2) issue an apology; and 3) establish
an advisory board to make reports and recommendations to McDonald’s
about dietary restrictions that apply to various types of
vegetarians, as well as guidelines for companies who market to
vegetarians. The apology is to be published concurrently with this
The apology appeared as a paid advertisement in recent
editions of Veggie Life, VegNews, Hinduism Today, India Tribune,
Satya, and several other publications serving mainly Hindus, Sikhs,
Also as part of McDonald’s proposed settlement, the 11
individuals who first brought the lawsuits are to get $4,000 apiece.
The suits were filed in Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles,
Phila-delphia, San Francisco, and Seattle.
The proposed settlement, rumored to be close to announcement
since March 2002, was open for public comment until July 8.
At least four plaintiffs have reportedly disassociated
themselves from the settlement terms and will apparently pursue
“Given how long the deception was, $10 million is a
pittance,” said plaintiff Cherie Travers of Downers Grove,
Illinois, to Amret Sachdev of the Chicago Tribune.
Which groups will receive funding from the settlement will
not be determined until after final ruling, Bharti explained at his
web site, <www.hbharti.com>. He invited eligible groups to submit
information about themselves to <email@example.com>. Bharti asked
that he be contacted by e-mail only.
Applicants for funding must have nonprofit status; must be
dedicated “to the values of Hindu, Sikh and other beef-less dietary
rules, vegetarianism, Kosher dietary rules, or children’s
nutrition or hunger relief,” and must concentrate their delivery of
services within the U.S.
A similar lawsuit is pending in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
In addition, in April 2002 Bharti filed a parallel suit in
Seattle on behalf of 15 million U.S. vegetarians and one million U.S.
Hindus against Pizza Hut for allegedly using beef products in
supposedly vegetarian “Veggie Lovers'” pizzas.
Both the McDonald’s and Pizza Hut cases resulted from an
investigation by Viji Sundaram, a longtime reporter for the
India-West weekly newspaper, of San Leandro, California. Her expose,
her third to win national honors since 1998, was on June 15
recognized in New York City by the South Asian Journalists
Association as the “outstanding story on South Asians of 2001”
published within the U.S.
“Viji Sundaram was a cofounder of the Blue Cross of India,
and is the sister of Blue Cross chair Chinny Krishna, currently vice
chair of the Animal Welfare Board of India,” Blue Cross honorary
secretary M. Parthasarathy told ANIMAL PEOPLE. “Sundaram is
presently a visiting professor at the Indian Institute of
Journalism–a joint project with Columbia University–at Bangalore.”
The proposed McDonald’s settlement with Hindus, Sikhs, and
vegetarians almost completely overshadowed the ongoing efforts of
PETA to oblige the company to honor a 1994 agreement with the late
Henry Spira to implement animal welfare standards for suppliers.
McDonald’s had still done little or nothing of a tangible nature,
however, when Spira died in September 1998.
A year later, PETA director of vegetarian outreach Bruce
Friedman took up the campaign more-or-less where Spira left off. An
11-month series of PETA-led protests against McDonald’s ensued.
“Dr. Temple Grandin, a humane slaughter systems specialist
and a member of the McDonald’s animal welfare panel, told the BBC
that she saw more improvement during the final six months of the
campaign than she had in the previous 20 years,” Friedman told
Satya, “which is significant, because she had been working for
McDonald’s on the issue for more than five years. McDonald’s is the
#1 buyer of eggs in the U.S.,” Friedman continued. “They moved from
an industry average of seven or eight hens per cage to a maximum of
five, and the death rates fell from almost 20% down to two or three
percent per year. For those who are alive, that’s a significant
improvement,” Friedman said.
This year, Friedman continued, “after the Animal Alliance
of Canada and a coalition of 40 animal groups contacted McDonald’s
about making animal welfare improvements in Canada, we submitted a
shareholder resolution calling on McDonald’s to internationalize its
In April, McDonald’s announced some faint movement toward
introducing the U.S. standards for suppliers in Canada, but that,
Friedman said, was “way too little, too late.” PETA and Trillium
Asset Management, a socially conscious investment firm that had
worked closely with Spira, won a legal battle with McDonald’s to ask
McDonald’s shareholders to vote on a proposal to extend the U.S.
standards for suppliers to all 121 nations in which McDonald’s does
The resolution won the approval of only 5% of the
shareholders, but that was enough to allow PETA and Trillium Asset
Management to reintroduce it in 2003.
Friedman hinted that PETA may revitalize the anti-McDonald’s
protests if necessary. Fallout from the 1999 campaign meanwhile
continues to draw at least regional attention, as PETA has taken to
the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals a 2001 ruling by U.S. District
Judge Dee Benson that a Salt Lake City school district acted lawfully
in prohibiting sidewalk demonstrations near a school that flew a
McDonald’s flag after receiving corporate donations.
BK Veggie debuts
While McDonald’s sought to settle the Bharti lawsuits and
reduce vulnerability to protests over animal welfare issues, without
actually changing any menu items, arch-rival Burger King in March
2002 reached for the vegetarian market share by introducing the BK
Veggie sandwich. The low-priced vegetarian burger looked like a hit,
though Burger King did not respond to ANIMAL PEOPLE requests for
Introducing it was an obviously prudent business decision,
as young adults are the customers of tomorrow, women are the primary
U.S. food purchasers, and in the U.S. and Britain, meat consumption
per capita has rapidly fallen among both young adults and women of
all ages for approximately 15 years.
The introduction was long awaited.
Remembered VegNews editor Joseph Connelly, “Nearly a decade
ago, Farm Sanctuary persuaded Burger King to import a supply of
Spicy Bean Burgers from England, where BK has sold veggie burgers
since the 1980s.” The burger was offered at 39 Burger King
restaurants in upstate New York. “Within a month,” Connelly
continued, “the supply was exhausted. Burger King substituted a
different product, called The Griller, and it also sold well. Then
it disappeared. Burger King claimed there wasn’t a market. While
some of us have our doubts, one thing is certain: over the last
nine years many fewer cows would have felt the knife if a meatless
burger had been an option at restaurants that serve nearly 25% of the
population on a daily basis.”
Yet ANIMAL PEOPLE observed at Burger King restaurants in
Chicago, Minneapolis, and Seattle that the BK Veggie seemed to be
welcomed with more enthusiasm among the general public than among
many activists, for whom animal advocacy and vegetarianism are often
mingled with other causes.
Opposition to globalization, for instance, explains the
paradox of some vegetarians aligning themselves with French farmer/
activist Jose Bove, who was ordered to jail for at least 40 days on
June 18 for demolishing a partially built McDonald’s restaurant in
Millau, France, in 1999. Bove, a leader of the Confederation
Paysanne agricultural union, attacked McDonald’s in protest against
U.S. punitive tariffs which had been imposed on imports of French
animal-based food specialties. Because France refused to accept U.S.
beef produced with the use of steroids, the U.S. more heavily taxed
Roquefort cheese and foie gras (goose or duck liver paste), among
For Satya editor Catherine Clyne, the issue is opposition to
capitalism. “Burger King wouldn’t serve a veggie burger if they
didn’t think they would profit from it–they’ll drop the option
faster than you can say ‘BK Veggie’ if it flops. Fast food giants
like Burger King and McDonald’s are fueled by exploitation,” Clyne
railed, “and they have made clear that they do not intend to
change.” Clyne appealed to ethical vegetarians to “refuse to
participate in a rapacious system sustained by greed.”
Wrote Friends of Animals president Priscilla Feral in a May
20 open letter against the BK Veggie, “We urge vegetarians to
support our local vegetarian restaurants and co-ops, helping them to
survive and thrive in an environment which has become increasingly
occupied by fast-food multinationals.”
But Feral objected to the BK Veggie primarily because,
“Burger King’s buns contain butter. Butter comes from an industry
which exploits the reproductive cycles of cows throughout their
lives,” she wrote, and is “an enterprise which directly results in
the production of veal. Friends of Animals, a pro-feminist group,”
Feral stipulated, “observes that criticism of meat production
without criticism of dairy production trivializes a serious concern
about the exploitation of female animals.”
Responded Patrick Kwan of the New York City-based Student
Animal Rights Alliance, “The Moosewood Restaurant Daily Special
Cookbook, promoted and sold by FoA not only calls for use of dairy
products such as butter, but also for use of fish and shrimp.”
Said Vegan Outreach cofounder Matt Ball, “Being vegan, for
me, is about lessening suffering and working for animal liberation
as efficiently as possible. It has nothing to do with personal
purity, or my ego. If, by some bizarre twist, eating a burger
were to advance animal liberation significantly, then I would do it.”
Agreed Eric Marcus, author of Vegan: The New Ethics of
Eating, and the publisher of Vegan.com, “The BK Veggie represents
an unprecedented opportunity in animal rights movement history. But
if it flops, it might set the spread of vegetarianism back 10 years.
And chances are, if the vegetarian/vegan movement does not embrace
this product, it will fail. I have exchanged e-mails with people at
BK. Their food scientists calculate that by weight, the BK Veggie
is better than 99% vegan. I’d be reluctant to eat a small amount of
animal product in the hope that it would help produce animal
liberation. But with the BK Veggie, the quantities involved are
trivial, and the success of this product is of the utmost importance
to farm animals everywhere. We have one chance, and if we turn our
back on it for the sake of maintaining the illusion of 100% purity,
then shame on us.”
PETA, which has picketed Burger King in the past, gave away
200 free BK Veggies in a March 2002 demonstration near the Burger
King head office in Miami.
“We’re sending our activists to Burger King again this year,
but this time it’s for lunch,” PETA self-described “sexy vegetarian
lettuce lady” Kristie Phelps told Scott Sonner of Associated Press.
“We think going vegetarian is the best thing people can do, and
Burger King has made that easier.”
Burger King & USDA
Humane Farming Association chief investigator Gail Eisnitz,
author of Slaughterhouse, said nothing bad about the BK Veggie in a
guest essay for the June/July 2002 edition of Satya, but ripped the
Burger King response after HFA petitioned the USDA to enforce the
Humane Slaughter Act, which has not been actively enforced in more
than a decade.
“In a press release,” Eisnitz wrote, “Burger King [also] declared USDA enforcement of the Humane Slaughter Act ‘unacceptable,’
and then announced that it too was filing a petition,” which Eisnitz
called “a smorgasbord of essentially meaningless demands designed to
supersede HFA’s petition. Burger King also announced that it had
established an ‘animal well-being advisory council’ to examine
slaughter and production practices,” Eisnitz continued. “Even the
meat industry’s own newspaper, Feedstuffs, found the effort
transparent. Burger King then stated that, as McDonald’s and
Wendy’s have recently done, it intended to institute a
self-inspection program to audit slaughterhouses…These
pseudo-inspections are intended to lull American consumers into a
false sense of security about how their burgers and bacon are
produced while providing fast food restaurant chains with significant
opportunities for favorable media.”
The USDA announced in February that it would hire 17
additional veterinarians to help enforce the Humane Slaughter
Act–but the vets will not be stationed inside slaughterhouses where
they can see what goes on.
“What they did was hire a bunch of bureaucrats,” Northeast
Council of Food Inspection Locals president Arthur Hughes told
Associated Press writer Philip Brasher.
The vets’ main job is expected to be monitoring carcass
samples to detect any signs of illnesses such as “mad cow disease”
which might be transmitted to humans–and any hint that bioterrorists
may be trying to contaminate the U.S. meat supply, a role which is
expected to gain prominence if the Animal and Plant Health Inspection
Service is transferred from the USDA to a new cabinet-level
Department of Homeland Security, as President George W. Bush
proposed on June 6.
The transfer was opposed on June 9 by the National
Association of State Departments of Agriculture.
Animal advocates have often suggested that APHIS might better
enforce the Animal Welfare Act, Humane Slaughter Act, and other
animal-protective legislation if removed from control of the USDA,
which has a mandate to promote agriculture.
But Humane Society of the U.S. senior vice president Wayne
Pacelle on June 20 said that, “Transferring animal welfare programs
to the Department of Homeland Security is an obvious misfit, and
would relegate important programs to the margins of a department
focused on matters entirely unrelated to the well-being of animals.”