McLibel leaflet caricature of McDonald's icons

McDonald’s Libel Trial

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In the left window is the verbatim text of an A5 leaflet printed by Greenpeace (London), I think the original, and allegedly distributed in six-page form in 1989-1990 by Dave Morris & Helen Steel. Below, is the heftier footnoted A4 version, also verbatim, of the same document; the evidence they adduce is mostly taken from the trial transcript. (See
      I've put the notes in contrasting text, so the documents can be compared fairly easily. The differences are represented by the court case from (depending on how you date it!) 28 June 1994 to 19th June 1997, when Mr Justice Bell delivered his verdict. And by several million more leaflets, a couple of hundred witnesses, and much money but less scrupulosity from McDonalds. At an estimated $15M or so from McDonald's, this works out at about $300,000 per footnote.
      As regards Internet, a very interesting aspect was the use of a new experimental keyboard-operated computer stenography system, which enabled the defendants' supporters to put each day's court record onto their site with minimum delay and effort.
      McDonald's were awarded the equivalent of about $100,000 against the two defendants, who announced they had no intention of paying. Justice Bell's Summary (my tidied version; 99K)
      For my taste, the key question, whether huge populations could be better and less wastefully fed than by McDonalds methods, wasn't really addressed, showing up the limitations of this sort of legal investigation - Rae West

What’s Wrong With McDonald’s?

all the facts and opinions in the current leaflet validated by McDonald’s themselves, and others

Note - Most references are given just by way of example (out of many more if we had room!). All evidence referred to is from the official transcripts of the McLibel Trial, giving the day number of the trial followed by the page/s (and line) [D/P-P (or D/P/L)] that the reference starts from. Many witnesses quoted are from McDonald’s side, not because we consider their evidence to be better than evidence for the Defence, but because it makes it harder for McDonald’s to deny the obvious. The transcripts can be viewed on the McSpotlight website ( The Defence closing speech provides many more references - see days 283-303. Summaries of evidence available from MSC. Where McDonald’s UK leaflets are given as a reference, equivalent leaflets are usually available in many of the countries McD operates in (esp. USA). ‘Comments’ are statements which are matters of opinion (political viewpoints), but which are based on the facts as stated in the leaflet.

McDonald’s spend over $1.8 billion every year worldwide on advertising and promotions, 1. McDonald’s Corporation Annual Report 1995 page 9   trying to cultivate an image of being a ‘caring’ and ‘green’ company that is also a fun place to eat. 2. Adverts & McD UK ‘Fast Fact’ leaflets - available in store   Children are lured in (dragging their parents behind them) with the promise of toys and other gimmicks. 3. McD Adverts, Happy Meals, toys, Ronald McDonald etc; McDonald's Corporation Operations Manual 1990-91 pp 653, 654, 659, 660 [44/37-41]   But behind the smiling face of Ronald McDonald lies the reality - McDonald’s only interest is money, making profits from whoever and whatever they can, 4. Comment - (McD executive agrees is purpose of Corp to make profits [4/80/7])   just like all multinational companies. McDonald’s Annual Reports talk of ‘Global Domination’ - 5. McDonald's Corporation Annual Report 1995 page 7   they aim to open more and more stores across the globe - but their continual worldwide expansion means more uniformity, less choice and the undermining of local communities. 6. Comment - eg. protests from residents, local family cafes put out of business 

McDonald’s promote their food as ‘nutritious’,
7. McD UK leaflet "Nutrition - a Question of Balance"; Evidence McD US executive, [123/41]   but the reality is that it is junk food - 8. Comment - not objected to by McDonald's [16/69/3]   high in fat, sugar and salt, and low in fibre and vitamins. 9. Evidence McD Nutrition Consultant [21/29-31], UK President [5/22/7]. For nutrient content see Nutritional Analysis figs, McD nutrition leaflets (various worldwide). The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends that for a healthy diet a max of 15-30% of a person's calorie intake should come from fat (preferably "towards 15%"), WHO Report "Diet, Nutrition, and the Prevention of Chronic Diseases" 1990, p108. (There are 9 calories per gram of fat)   A diet of this type is linked with a greater risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes and other diseases. 10. WHO Report 1990. p157; McD UK 1985 pamphlet "Good Food, Nutrition & McDonald's" p12; Evidence McD Nutrition Consultant, [14/75/8, 21/49/14]   Their food also contains many chemical additives, some of which may cause ill-health, and hyperactivity in children. 11. McD UK "Our food. The inside story" lists 52 additives used. Some of these are considered to provoke hyperactivity in children (leaflet, Hyperactive Childrens Support group). Others may cause ill-health: "Additives: a Guide for Everyone" by Eric Millstone; "E for Additives" by Maurice Hanssen   Don’t forget too that meat is the cause of the majority of food poisoning incidents. 12. Evidence of Defence expert [106/4/18]   In 1991 McDonald’s were responsible for an outbreak of food poisoning in the UK, in which people suffered serious kidney failure. 13. Public Health Laboratory Services Report on E Coli infection Dec 1990 to Feb 1991. Also McD admission of responsibility [101/8] [246/46]   With modern intensive farming methods, other diseases - linked to chemical residues or unnatural practices - have become a danger to people too (such as BSE). 14. "The Food We Eat" by Joanna Blythman; Evidence McD UK chicken supplier re use antibiotics etc [90/42-43;91/36-37]; evidence McD meat purchaser re residues [92/22]; evidence Defence expert [244/16-24] 

Workers in the fast food industry are paid low wages.
15. McD's basic rate is currently GBP3.25 p.h. for over 18 year olds. In 1994 the Council of Europe set a 'decency threshold' for pay then as a minimum of GBP5.88 per hour. (Govt. New Earnings Survey 1994 [180/13/33]). McD workers' basic hourly rates were in the lowest quartile (25%) of basic hourly rates of retail and catering employees [1992 Company document - "External Survey of Retail and Catering Hourly Rates"]   McDonald’s do not pay overtime rates even when employees work very long hours. 16. Evidence McD UK Vice President [117/10/41,118/9/39]. Also D310/18. (Note; except in countries where they are required by law to pay it.)   Pressure to keep profits high and wage costs low 17. Evidence McD UK Vice-President [118/57/17]   results in understaffing, 18. Evidence McD current & ex-employees; [197/49/47, 209/36-37, 212/41/38, 213/18, 215/8 & 15, 268/29/60]. See also McD Operation Manual p481 [125/19]   so staff have to work harder and faster. As a consequence, accidents (particularly burns) are common. 19. "The Management of Occupational Health & Safety in McDonald’s Restaurants Ltd.", report by Accident Prevention Advisory Unit of the UK Health & Safety Executive, 1992, makes numerous recommendations and condemns McD ‘hustle’ policy as putting customer service ahead of employee safety   The majority of employees are people who have few job options 20. 68% of hourly paid employees are under 21 - McDonald’s UK Fact File 1996. Evidence McD US executive - over 37% of US crew from ethnic minorities [123/21/56]   and so are forced to accept this exploitation, and they’re compelled to ‘smile’ too! 21. Evidence McD UK & US Executives [6/30/19-27, 125/24/15]   Not surprisingly staff turnover at McDonald’s is high, 22. McD annualised turnover in US since 1990 (up to 177%) and UK (106-197%)[118/9]. Opinion of Judge, McD’s QC agrees [310/21/32]   making it virtually impossible to unionise and fight for a better deal, which suits McDonald’s who have always been opposed to Unions. 23. "Behind the Arches" p397, by John Love with co-operation of McD [4/69-70]; Evidence McD UK Vice President [120/ 5/27] 

Vast areas of land in poor countries are used for cash crops or for cattle ranching, or to grow grain to feed animals to be eaten in the West.
24. Brazilian soya exported for cattle feed (239/11/13]; McD Snr Vice-President [225/11-12 & 17]; Misc text books, eg. ‘Beyond Beef’ by Jeremy Rifkin, p148, 163   This is at the expense of local food needs. McDonald’s continually promote meat products, encouraging people to eat meat more often, 25. Self evident fact - McD spends $1.8 bn on advertising each year to persuade people to eat their products (almost all meat based) more frequently   which wastes more and more food resources. 7 million tons of grain fed to livestock produces only 1 million tons of meat and by-products. 26. Vegetarian Society; misc text books eg. ‘Beyond Beef’ by Jeremy Rifkin p 160-1   On a plant-based diet and with land shared fairly, almost every region could be self-sufficient in food. 27. ‘Atlas of the Environment’ WWF 1990 p25; ‘Beyond Beef’ p163 

Forests throughout the world - vital for all life - are being destroyed at an appalling rate by multinational companies.
28. World Wildlife Fund report - ‘Forests In Trouble’ by Nigel Dudley (1992) [73/12-14]   McDonald’s have at last been forced to admit to using beef reared on ex-rainforest land, 29. Opening speech for McD re Costa Rica, [1/50/8]. Evidence Defence expert - McD’s identified current beef supply sources in Brazil include areas of recently cleared ex-rainforest land [251/18-23]   preventing its regeneration. Also, the use of farmland by multinationals and their suppliers forces local people to move on to other areas and cut down further trees. 30. Evidence Defence expert [239/11/19]   McDonald’s are the world’s largest user of beef. 31. "Interesting facts about McDonald’s", McD UK 1984; evidence McD representative [288/5/39]   Methane emitted by cattle reared for the beef industry is a major contributor to the ‘global warming’ crisis. 32. McDonald’s Corporation "Let’s Get Growing America" pamphlet [287/22]   Modern intensive agriculture is based on the heavy use of chemicals which are damaging to the environment. 33. Evidence US ex-cattle rancher [233/8/54]; misc standard texts eg. ‘Silent Spring’ by Rachel Carson; ‘Atlas of the Environment’ WWF 1990 pp 105-108; ‘Beyond Beef.’   Every year McDonald’s use thousands of tons of unnecessary packaging, 34. Each store produces an average of 140 pounds of in-store waste packaging a day [9/24/25], equivalent, worldwide, to approx 500,000 tonnes of waste every year - excluding takeaway packaging (around 50% of custom)   most of which ends up littering our streets 35. See for yourself! Evidence McD UK President [6/53/13]   or polluting the land buried in landfill sites. 36. In the UK, all McD’s waste ends up as litter or in landfill sites, evidence McD UK Snr Vice President, [61/33/47] 

The menus of the burger chains are based on the torture and murder of millions of animals.
37. Opinion; McD’s acceptance of this, [1/44/ 24, 30/2/45]. (Note: McD later tried to backtrack on their acceptance of ‘torture’ as opinion, however many people do hold this view and are entitled to express it.) See Defence closing speech days 288-291 for refs to general rearing conditions   Most are intensively farmed, with no access to fresh air and sunshine, and no freedom of movement. 38. In the UK, all McD chickens and virtually all pigs are reared indoors in intensive farms in conditions as described; battery chickens [108/9/12, 288/8/25]; chickens [1/10/27]; pigs [290/32-33]. In the USA & Australia, many cattle are fattened in feedlots which severely restrict their freedom of movement [233/8-13]   Their deaths are barbaric - ‘humane slaughter’ is a myth. 39. Evidence US ex-cattle rancher [233/14-15]; RSPCA "The Slaughter of Food Animals"   We have the choice to eat meat or not, but the billions of animals massacred for food each year have no choice at all. 40. Self evident fact 

Criticism of McDonald’s has come from a huge number of people and organisations over a wide range of issues.
41. Environmentalists, trades unionists, nutritionists, parents, media, animal rights activists, residents groups, just about everybody really! McD US executive aware of previous criticism [123/9-12]   In the mid-1980’s, London Greenpeace drew together many of those strands of criticism and called for an annual World Day of Action against McDonald’s. This takes place every year on 16th October, with pickets and demonstrations all over the world. 42. McLibel Support Campaign Jan 1995 Round Up listed protests in 26 countries during 1994, many around the October 16th annual World Day of Action against McDonald’s
  McDonald’s, who spend a fortune every year on advertising, are trying to silence world-wide criticism by threatening legal action against those who speak out. 43. McD in the UK alone have sent writs or threats of writs in order obtain ‘apologies’, to the BBC and Channel 4, The Guardian and other local and national press, Scottish TUC and other labour movement, environmental & animal rights groups, a children’s theatre group, book publishers. (See McSpotlight ‘Issues’ section under ‘Freedom of Speech/Libel Laws’)   Many have been forced to back down because they lacked the money to fight a case. 44. Eg. Harriet Lamb researcher for "Working for Big Mac" [230/4/20 & 21/21]; Juliet Gellatley, Vegetarian Society [49/28/22]; also [272/44/44]   But Helen Steel and Dave Morris, two supporters of London Greenpeace, defended themselves in a major UK High Court libel trial. No legal aid is available so they represented themselves. McDonald’s engaged in a huge cover up, refusing to disclose masses of relevant documents. 45. Defendants legal submissions [2/3/14, 313/22-24]   Also, the defendants were denied their right to a jury. Despite all the cards being stacked against them, 46. Legal commentator, Marcel Berlins: "I cannot think of a case in which the legal cards have been so spectacularly stacked against one party." (The Guardian 18/1/94)   Helen and Dave turned the tables and exposed the truth by putting McDonald’s business practices on trial. 47. Comment   Protests against the $30 billion 48. McDonald’s Corporation Annual Report 1995 - turnover $30 billion   a year fast-food giant continue to grow. 49.Over two million of these leaflets have been distributed in the UK alone since 1990, and thousands of people have pledged to continue to hand them out. The leaflet has been translated into over 2 dozen languages   It’s vital to stand up to intimidation and to defend free speech.

WHAT YOU CAN DO - Together we can fight back against the institutions and the people in power who dominate our lives and our planet, and we can create a better society without exploitation. Workers can and do organise together to fight for their rights and dignity. People are increasingly aware of the need to think seriously about the food we and our children eat. People in poor countries are organising themselves to stand up to multinationals and banks which dominate the world’s economy. Environmental and animal rights protests and campaigns are growing everywhere. Why not join in the struggle for a better world. Talk to friends and family, neighbours and workmates about these issues. Please copy and circulate this leaflet as widely as you can.
Greenpeace (London), 5 Caledonian Road, London N1 9DX, UK.
Tel 0171 837 7557 or 0171 713 1269
Independent Internet info at

Produced April 1997.


HTML Rae West.
First uploaded 98-01-28 Revd 99-02-19. Link to summary of judgment added 2000-05-09. Put back on Internet 2013-01-21 .