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February 2003
Vegetarian Advocate: McDonald’s Tries to Shaft Vegetarians... Again
By Jack Rosenberger


If you were going to make a list of the top vegetarian organizations in America, who would be on it? Would you include Tufts University? How about the Muslim Consumer Group for Food Products, an organization that promotes halal food, which includes fish (and chickens, cows, sheep, goats, and other animals as long as they are slaughtered according to Islamic rites)? Does this group strike you as particularly vegetarian? What about the American Dietetic Association Foundation—when did it become a wholly vegetarian outfit?

I ask the above questions because as I write this month’s column, the Honorable Richard Siebel, a judge in the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois, is deciding what vegetarian groups will receive part of a $6 million settlement from McDonald’s. As you may recall, Harish Bharti, a Seattle attorney (and lifelong vegetarian), filed a class-action lawsuit against McDonald’s in May 2001, alleging that the junk food giant knowingly told vegetarians that its French fries were vegetarian when, in fact, they weren’t. McDonald’s French fries are flavored with beef tallow.

Bharti filed the lawsuit on behalf of religious and ethical vegetarians. McDonald’s quickly settled with Bharti and his clients. As part of the settlement agreement, McDonald’s promised to donate $10 million to causes that are supported by the plaintiffs. Of the $10 million, McDonald’s agreed to donate $6 million to vegetarian organizations, $2 million to Hindu or Sikh groups, and the remainder to better feed children and to promote the public’s understanding of kosher food practices.

Much to the dismay of Bharti and his clients, however, McDonald’s has assembled a vegetarian allocation list that contains many nonvegetarian groups and petitioned Judge Siebel to approve the list. If McDonald’s gets its way, approximately half of the “vegetarian” allocation money will go to nonvegetarian groups.

What’s wrong with this picture?
If Judge Siebel approves the McDonald’s vegetarian allocation list, here are the beneficiaries and their respective monies: Vegetarian Resource Group ($1.4 million), North American Vegetarian Society ($1 million), Tufts University ($800,000), American Dietetic Association Foundation ($500,000), American Vegan Society ($500,000), Preventive Medicine Research Institute ($500,000), Sound Vision Foundation ($300,000), Loma Linda University ($250,000), University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, Department of Nutrition ($250,000), Vegetarian Vision ($250,000), The Islamic Food and Nutrition Council of America (IFANCA); ($150,000), Muslim Consumer Group for Food Products ($50,000).

Astute readers will notice that only four of the 12 organizations on the McDonald’s allocation list have the word “vegan” or “vegetarian” in their name.

By my reckoning, half of the groups on the McDonald’s allocation list have little or virtually no connection with vegetarianism. Tufts University, Loma Linda University, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill may garner a total of $1.3 million. (While Loma Linda has conducted important vegetarian research, it hardly qualifies as a vegetarian organization.) As for the Muslim Consumer Group for Food Products, IFANCA, and Sound Vision Foundation, which are earmarked to receive a total of $550,000, it is mind-boggling that McDonald’s would consider these organizations to be even remotely vegetarian.

What is most striking about the McDonald’s allocation list are the pro-vegetarian organizations that didn’t make the list, such as FARM, Farm Sanctuary, Vegan Outreach, PETA, and Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM). Clearly, McDonald’s is trying to avoid contributing money to even one outspoken, animal rights or, in PCRM’s case, health group that promotes vegetarianism. The absence of these five groups is remarkable in that all of them are national organizations that have a proven track record of promoting a vegetarian lifestyle.

A Secret List
It is interesting what Harish Bharti has told the media about the allocation process vis-a-vis McDonald’s. He has “accused McDonald’s of initially trying to pressure him to keep the settlement secret from his clients,” according to the Chicago Sun-Times, “and to keep the list secret from groups that asked if they were on it. He objected.”

Bharti has also stated that he believes some organizations are not included on the list because “they stood up against McDonald’s.” Bharti has not publicly identified the banned organizations, but PCRM and PETA have each challenged McDonald’s in the past over the nutritious content of its foods and the ethical practices of raising animals for slaughter.

As for McDonald’s, it has issued a press statement regarding the settlement controversy in which it states that the settlement process is “a fair and open-door process directed by the court...McDonald’s is committed to following the court’s direction.”

Bharti has asked Judge Siebel to appoint an impartial third party to decide what organizations receive the allocation money. Please do likewise: contact Judge Siebel and request he name an independent arbitrator. Time is of the essence: Judge Siebel will make his final ruling on the allocation list on February 25.

Contact: The Honorable Richard Siebel, Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois, County Department, Chancery Division, Room 2305, Daley Center, Chicago, IL 60601; (312) 603-4181; Fax: (312) 603-6787; re: “Block et. al. v. McDonald’s Corporation, Cause No. 01 CH 9137.” Ask Judge Seibel to ensure that the money be allocated only to vegetarian organizations.

Likewise, to give McDonald’s an earful, contact: James J. Cantalupo, Chairman and CEO, McDonald’s Corporation, McDonald’s Plaza, Oak Brook, IL 60521; (630) 623-3000.

Amen, Brother!
“I think that centuries from now, people of faith and conscience will look back at our times in shock and amazement that we ate meat, permitted people to starve, treated one another so unjustly, waged war, built huge nuclear arsenals and remained hell-bent on destroying the planet.” —John Dear, Jesuit priest


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