May 11: Fast food giant McDonald’s seems to be frying in its own fat once again – quite literally at that. Last week, an Indian-American lawyer, Harish Bharti took the fast food giant to a US court for lacing its french fries with beef flavouring, a chemical compound that mimics the taste of beef fat. Millions of Hindus from across the world freely munch its french fries believing them to be vegetarian.
Beefing up Bharti’s case is information provided in Eric Schlosser’s recently published book, Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of An All-American Meal.
Newspapers report that McDonald’s India however insists that “no beef or animal extracts of whatsoever kind” are used in its french fries. The french fries are imported in the form of blast-frozen, partially fried strips from New Zealand. Does the supplier use beef flavouring in the french fries? The spokesman neatly sidesteps the question by saying, “We use 100 per cent vegetable oil at every stage.”
Being taken to court isn’t something new for McDonald’s. Six years ago, it found itself trapped in a case filed, ironically, by the company itself. It all started in the 1980s when London Greenpeace activists distributed a leaflet entitled “What’s Wrong with McDonald’s”.
McDonald’s The company accused the leaflet of being defamatory, since it criticised McDonald’s for its effect on the environment and the Third World, the treatment of animals, employees’ working conditions and the adverse effect on people’s (especially children’s) health.
After a three-year legal wrangle, McDonald’s won the battle but lost the war. Though the judge directed the London Greenpeace activists to pay damages of 60,000 pounds, he also ruled that the fast food giant was in fact guilty of exploiting children, ill-treating animals and paying their workers low wages.
The activists refused to pay the damages, and McDonald’s figured it was better to let go of the money, than let the continuous stream of bad publicity continue.
But the burger baron seems to be on slippery ground with this new controversy. Beef is complete sacrilege for Hindus. Even the most liberal among them tend to steer clear of consuming the meat of cows. The company has launched a vigorous disaster-prevention exercise, even bringing in ‘experts’ to testify that the fries are free of any beef extract.
But the damage is done. The next time their Hindu customers pick up a french fry, they’ll probably think of more than just putting on fat.