McDonald’s settlement challenged by 6 of 7 original plaintiffs
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, January/February 2003:
CHICAGO–“We are not being besieged by thousands of angry
vegetarians,” Houston attorney Cory S. Fein told Cook County Judge
Richard Siebel on January 13.
But Fein may have invited such a response. Fein was in court
to defend the list of 26 proposed grant recipients offered by
McDonald’s Restaurants in settlement of class action lawsuits brought
by Hindus and vegetarians who unwittingly ate French fries seasoned
in a mist of beef broth. McDonald’s advertised that its fries were
cooked in pure vegetable oil from 1990 until after Seattle attorney
Harish Bharti filed the first of a series of related cases in May
In June 2002 McDonald’s proposed to settle the class actions
by donating $10 million to nonprofit organizations representing the
interests of the plaintiffs: $6 million to charities representing or
benefiting vegetarians; $2 million to charities representing or
benefiting Hindus and/or Sikhs; $1 million to charities addressing
children’s health and/or malnutrition; and $1 million to charities
promoting Jewish dietary law.
Bharti and the attorneys for plaintiffs who filed parallel
cases in other states, including Fein, accepted the settlement in
principle. Six of the seven original plaintiffs, however, have
rejected the proposed allocation of the funding, especially the $6
million supposed to benefit vegetarianism, and have fired the
attorneys who agreed to it–who are now working to keep it in place.
One original plaintiff, Cherie Travis of Downer’s Grove,
Illinois, has reportedly filed a motion alleging that this violates
the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct, which stipulate that “A
lawyer who has formerly represented a client in a matter shall not
thereafter…represent another person in the same or a substantially
related matter in which that person’s interests are materially
adverse to the interests of the former client.”
Bharti has asked Judge Siebel to appoint a special master to
oversee a distribution of the money that would be more in accord with
the plaintiffs’ wishes. A ruling is not expected before January 27.
The settlement currently proposes that American Vegan Society
and the Preventive Medicine Research Institute headed by vegetarian
advocate Dean Ornish would each get $500,000. These allocations are
apparently accepted by all plaintiffs without objection.
However, the settlement also proposes that the
Baltimore-based Vegetarian Resource Group would get $1.4 million and
the North American Vegetarian Society would get $1 million even
though both organizations editorially opposed lawsuits like the case
against McDonald’s in their membership publications. This part of
the settlement is strongly opposed by Jeffrey A. Nelson of
<www.VegSource.com>, who testified in Chicago against the McDonald’s
list, along with Cornell University professor T. Colin Campbell,
attorney Amy Breyer as representative of the Vegetarian Legal Action
Network and National Health Association president Mark Epstein.
Nelson stipulated that since VegSource is not a nonprofit
organization, it would not be eligible to receive funding no matter
how the grants are eventually distributed.
The settlement further would give $500,000 to the American
Dietetic Association Foundation; $250,000 to Vegetarian Vision Inc.,
a Hindu organization based in New York City; $250,000 to Loma Linda
University, of Santa Rosa, California to “expand circulation of
the Vegetarian Nutrition & Health newsletter” it publishes and “to
develop a web site”; $800,000 to Tufts University; $250,000 to the
Department of Nutrition at the University of North Carolina at Chapel
Hill, to fund studies by Stephen Zeisel, M.D., of the effects of
veganism in pregnancy; and $550,000 to three Islamic organizations
which reportedly teach about halal slaughter, the Islamic equivalent
of kosher slaughter.
These allocations are more broadly opposed. Campbell, whose
research in China during the 1980s helped to establish the
association of meat consumption with increased rates of cancer and
heart disease, testified that the research components of the
settlement proposed by McDonald’s would “set back vegetarianism for
10 to 20 years,” because the researchers are allegedly hostile to
Members of the Tufts University nutrition department have
been vocally at odds with vegetarian advocates Michael Klaper, M.D.,
and John McDougall, M.D., “to the point where McDougall had to hire
a lawyer and force Tufts to retract allegedly defamatory statements
made about his work,” Nelson said at the VegSource web site.
“Zeisel,” Nelson added, “has been quoted in multiple publications
as stating that he believes vegan women should go off the vegan diet
when pregnant and eat eggs, drink milk, and perhaps eat beef liver”
to get choline, a nutrient needed to prevent birth defects.
Letters against the proposed settlement were submitted to the
court by representatives of Compassion Over Killing, the Farm Animal
Reform Movement, Farm Sanctuary, the Physicians Committee for
Responsible Medicine, the Student Animal Rights Alliance, Vegan
Outreach, and Viva!, as well as by individual vegetarian advocates
including Lawrence Carter-Long, Sarah Clifton, Mary Finelli, Pat
Fish, Stanley and Rhoda Sapon, Paul Shapiro, Joanne Stepaniak,
Bernard Unti, and Lige Weil, among a long list of others.