Albion Monitor /News

[Editor's note: Two previous stories about the McLibel trial have appeared in the Albion Monitor. In brief:

Dave Morris and Helen Steel -- often referred to as the "McLibel 2" -- are British vegetarian activists who were sued by McDonald's in 1990. The corporation claims that the pair distributed leaflets containing false statements about the company, its products and practices. The pamphlets were published by London Greenpeace.

Morris and Steel argue that the leaflets were "fair comment," protected under British libel laws. According to British law, the accused must prove the validity of the alleged libelous statements, rather than the company proving the falseness of them, as is the case in the United States.

The pair are simultaneously suing McDonald's for libel because of a leaflet the corporation circulated at its British restaurants, charging that the two were liars due to the claims in their brochure.

Denied the right to legal aid (which would have paid their legal costs), the pair have represented themselves in court. During three and a half years of pre-trial legal maneuvering, the defendants were also denied access to key McDonald's documents.

Only about six months before the trial began, they were denied a jury trial after McDonald's successfully argued that the issues of links between diet and ill health would be "too complicated" for a jury to decide.

The definitive source for news from the activist's viewpoint remains the McSpotlight page, which claims to have had an average of over 16,000 visitors per day since beginning earlier this year. At that website can be found daily summaries of the trial, as well as additional background information.]

McLibel Trial Now Longest in British History

by Jeff Elliott

40,000 pages of evidence

While Americans prepared for the elections last Monday, history was made in London as the "McLibel" trial marched past its 292nd day, making it the longest trial of any kind in British history.

The trial, which began in the summer of 1994, was originally expected to last a few weeks but has stretched beyond two years, with roughly 15 thousand pages of testimony from 180 witnesses. An additional 40,000 pages of evidence has been entered into the record.

Against protests by Steel and Morris that they have not had adequate time to prepare for closing arguments, the trial is expected to end by New Year's. The pair had asked the court to have the corporation summarize its case first, so that they could offer rebuttal to McDonald's interpretations of the mountain of evidence and testimony.

Morris and Steel argued that they were already at a disadvantage, because they did not have access to expensive daily transcripts. Last year, the $30 billion corporate giant broke an agreement to provide each of the two defendants with a transcript of each day's testimony at its own expense for the remainder of the trial. To their dismay, the trial judge ruled that the activists had to begin closing arguments on October 21.

Coca-cola provides water, part of a balanced diet

The primary reason why the trial has taken so long is because "the tables have been turned and the fast food giant has found itself on trial," as Steel and Morris said in a statement about the legal milestone.

To prove that they weren't guilty of libel, the activists have presented wide-ranging evidence about the corporation and its business practices, including:

Animal Cruelty Despite a McDonald's publication that claimed the corporation only used suppliers with the highest standards of animal welfare, testimony from McDonald's own expert witness provided apparent contradictions. At facilities of the British company which supplies McDonald's with 27 million chickens in Europe each year, for example, fewer than 1 bird in 3 has normal leg structure because of the cramped conditions. And despite having huge potential influence over this supplier, McDonald's only stipulated that the birds should have a 'good meat yield,' never once suggesting better welfare, according to the defendants.

Unhealthy food Besides plans for a heart-stopping "Mega Mac" with four meat patties, a 1986 McDonald's internal memo supposedly read: "We can't really address or defend nutrition. We don't sell nutrition and people don't come to McDonald's for nutrition." Asked why he thought Coca-Cola was an example of nutritious food, a U.S. Senior-Vice President of Marketing testified it is "providing water, and I think that is part of a balanced diet." (A listing of nutritional content is available directly from McDonald's, but curiously overlooks newer high-fat items, such as the "Arch Deluxe.")

Food poisoning A McDonald's witness testified that the company receives between 1,500 and 2,750 customer complaints of food poisoning a year in the UK, and the defendants charged that McDonald's sacrifices "safety concerns to make a speedy product." Claiming that McDonald's own specification for cooking temperature had increased about three times in the UK during the last ten years, the activists said the meat still didn't reach the levels recommended for safety.

Rainforest exploitation McDonald's obtains beef from Brazilian ranches on recently cleared Amazonian rainforest land, according to the activists. (The company maintains that U.S. stores use 100 percent American beef, and restauants in other countries try to use local animals as well.)

Manipulation of Children According to evidence submitted by the pair, the corporation's official 'Operations Manual' states: "Ronald loves McDonald's and McDonald's food. And so do children, because they love Ronald. Remember, children exert a phenomenal influence when it comes to restaurant selection. This means you should do everything you can to appeal to children's love for Ronald and McDonald's."

Other issues raised by the activists include wasteful packaging and poor working conditions. Steel and Morris also charge that the corporation hired private cops to infiltrate London Greenpeace, with some of the undercover agents distributing the supposedly libelous pamphlet.

Whatever the outcome of the trial, activists claim that the trial has backfired on McDonald's. Over 2 million leaflets supposedly have been distributed in England alone, and thousands have pledged to continue circulating the leaflets even if the corporation wins.

Protests and campaigns against McDonald's continue in many countries. On October 16, "World Day of Action Against McDonald's," activists in several North American cities and elsewhere blocked drive-thrus, disrupted business harassed patrons, and hung banners denouncing the fast food giant as "McKill," McDeath," McMurder," and much, much, McWorse.

Violent confrontations inside restaurants between patrons and protesters were reported in Santa Cruz and Muncie, Indiana, with activists were maced by police and arrested in Minneapolis. Approximately 50 other protests were peaceful.

Private security guard and protesters at publicity event "preview" for Arch Deluxe hamburger in Hollwood, May 11th.

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Albion Monitor November 15, 1996 (

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