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Thursday, October 14, 1999 Published at 17:49 GMT 18:49 UK

World: Americas

Animal rights group targets McDonald's

Peta will place these adverts on billboards in major cities

By BBC News Online's Kevin Anderson

An animal rights pressure group is launching a global campaign against fast-food giant McDonald's.

McDonald's has denied claims from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta) that they have "done nothing to improve the life of even one animal" since the 1997 "McLibel" ruling by a British judge, which found the company had been responsible for cruelty to some animals.

The fast-food company has said it had been talking to Peta over improving animal welfare, but the group abruptly walked out of talks and went on the offensive.

[ image: Peta will launch demos in 250 cities around the world]
Peta will launch demos in 250 cities around the world
Peta is planning to stage protests at McDonald's restaurants in 250 cities in 20 countries on 16-30 October, Mr Friedrich said.

It is also running a billboard campaign with one advertisement showing a bloody cow's head with the caption "Do you want fries with that?"

'McLibel' findings

The protests focus on the findings in the so-called McLibel case.

McDonald's claimed that vegetarian activists Dave Morris and Helen Steel libelled the company in pamphlets they circulated outside McDonald's restaurants.

Judge Rodger Bell ruled in favour of the company over most of the allegations in a leaflet entitled What's Wrong with McDonald's?

But he found the allegations were true when they accused McDonald's of paying low wages to its workers, being responsible for cruelty to some of the animals used in its food products and exploiting children in advertising campaigns.

Much ado about nothing

Following the verdict, Peta spoke at McDonald's shareholders meetings and met the company to discuss animal rights issues.

But Peta broke off talks in August, saying "it became painfully clear that the restaurant chain had no intention of following its words with meaningful action".

In two years, "the company has done literally nothing" to address the judge's ruling, Mr Friedrich added.

"They won't do the easiest of things or penalise slaughterhouses that are guilty of particularly egregious violations," he said.

He also said the firm had done nothing to address how animals are treated on farms or during transportation, or to discourage chicken suppliers from raising GM chickens that suffer from leg deformities.

Charges denied

[ image: McDonald's has hired a consultant to improve conditions at slaughterhouses]
McDonald's has hired a consultant to improve conditions at slaughterhouses
McDonald's hired animal welfare expert Dr Temple Grandin to review and improve conditions for animals at the company's suppliers.

"She'll lie in the corral to see an animal's-eye view of the plant or the stockyard, to see what they see, to hear what they hear," McDonald's spokesman Walt Riker said.

"Some of the most simple changes have come from that point of view."

McDonald's and Dr Grandin strongly object to Peta's assertion that the company has done nothing to improve animal welfare.

"I was furious when I heard about that," Dr Grandin said.

She said she has seen more positive change in the last six months than in the previous 25 years that she had been in the business.

"McDonald's is light years ahead of other suppliers," she said.

She has personally audited 25 meat-processing plants since the beginning of 1999.

Compared with results of slaughterhouse audits she conducted for the US Department of Agriculture in 1996, she said the McDonald's suppliers had improved 100%.

Mr Friedrich discounts the effectiveness of the audits, saying they allow producers to make changes while inspectors are present.

He also said that McDonald's has not penalised plants that are not in compliance.

McDonald's says it has "delisted" one plant for not complying with animal welfare standards, and other plants have had to take corrective action, Mr Riker said.

The company also plans to begin unannounced audits of plants.

Room for improvement

Dr Grandin says there are changes that need to be made at McDonald's chicken and pork suppliers, but the company focused on cattle slaughterhouses first because they have the closest relationship with those suppliers.

She said that practices such as cutting off more than half of a chicken's beak or forced moulting should be banned.

Forced moulting involves keeping birds off feed for a week or sometimes longer to encourage them to shed their feathers and increase egg production.

She is beginning reviews of those suppliers.

Willing to talk

McDonald's has attempted to open a dialogue with Peta, Mr Riker said, adding that the franchiser's chairman and CEO Jack Greenberg had publicly said he would personally meet with representatives of Peta.

"Peta unilaterally and unexpectedly walked away, pulled the plug. One day we were having a dialogue with them, and the next day they were attacking us," he said.

"Peta has taken itself out of the game. They are not in the field. We're in the game, and we're using our purchasing power for positive results," he added.

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