Wednesday, August 4, 2010


As food issues get pushed more and more into the national spotlight McDonald’s is trying harder to convince the public that it too can be environmentally and nutritionally conscious. Its latest attempts can be seen through a new ad campaign in the state of Washington, where McDonald’s is brazenly seeking to jump on the “local foods” bandwagon.

Billboards and commercials throughout the state cleverly insinuate that McDonald’s uses local produce. The billboards are plastered with slogans like “"Served in Seattle, grown in Pasco." A recent press release issued by McDonald’s states that “88% of apples served at McDonald's in western Washington are from Washington State” and that “95% of French fries and hash browns served at McDonald's in western Washington are from Washington.”

This new campaign doesn’t reflect any changes in McDonald’s industrial approach to food production. Instead, McDonald’s is capitalizing on the fact that many of their industrial farms happen to already be located in Washington. For a more accurate representation of these farms, click here.

The local foods movement is about making a conscious decision to buy foods that are grown in the area rather than foods that are shipped across continents and oceans. Implicit in the movement is an appreciation for the environment and for the safety and quality of the food we are consuming.

McDonald’s new ad campaign is a gross example of the fast food industry continually seeking new ways to misrepresent themselves to the public.

For a closer look at the billboards, click here.

Photo by

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The momentum continues to build...

Kudos to the Center for Science in the Public Interest for challenging McDonald’s role in the current childhood epidemic of diabetes and other diet-related diseases, as seen in a July 19 article in the Boston Globe. The Globe reports that $1.6 billion is spent annually on marketing to kids. That's $1.6 billion worth of targeted messages that a parent has to work against when trying to teach their child healthy eating habits! The Globe quotes a study by the Institute of Medicine that food and beverage marketing pose "a direct threat to the health of the next generation.’’

The stakes are high. Kids are getting sick at staggering rates, as the fast food industry lures young customers through predatory marketing practices. At Corporate Accountability International, our successful campaign to retire Joe Camel shows that stopping advertisements of harmful products to children can save lives.

The public agrees: A recent national poll found that nearly half the public would like to see McDonald’s stop using Ronald McDonald to hook kids on fast food. We’ve found Ronald marketing directly to kids in children’s libraries, hospitals and all over the internet, even though young kids are unable to understand Ronald’s persuasive intent.

It’s time for McDonald’s to put away the toys, retire Ronald, and stop marketing to kids!

Post by Jamie Gordon

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Case of the Missing Calories

Do lawsuits change the nutritional value of foods? For McDonald’s, the answer seems to be yes. Thanks to blogger Michele Simon, the public is now aware of some tricky misinformation from McDonald’s.

In a recent action, the consumer group the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) asked McDonald’s to stop using toys in their Happy Meals as a way of enticing children to eat unhealthy food and threatened to sue them if they would not end the practice. One statistic cited by CSPI was that none of the happy meals on the McDonald’s happy meal menu, even those with “apple dippers” and milk or apple juice, had less than 430 calories, the recommended caloric intake of one meal for a child 4-8 years old. According to McDonald’s own nutrition facts at the time, this was true.

But that was back on June 22. By June 25, three days after CSPI’s announcement, the new nutrition facts on McDonald’s website showed each of the meal combinations that contained McDonald’s “apple dippers” with 70 fewer calories, so that three of the 12 combinations would fall under 430 calories. McDonald’s offered no explanation of how their apple dippers suddenly lost 70 calories, but Simon wonders if they just opted to omit their sugary caramel dipping sauce that comes as a side to this “healthy” alternative to fries. This mysterious nutrition revision is just another question McDonald’s will have to answer about their marketing to children if CSPI continues with their litigation.

Post by John Skinner

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Childhood Obesity or Teen Smoking?

“If you had to choose one public health problem to attack, which would it be: teenage smoking or childhood obesity?”

This was the opening line for a recent NY Times article contrasting the increasing support for fighting childhood obesity with the decreasing funds available for anti-smoking campaigns. Many advocates fighting the good fight against Big Tobacco lamented the fact that it seems necessary to sacrifice anti-smoking efforts amongst teenagers in order to fully fund projects to prevent childhood obesity.

We would like to point out something that the author of the article takes for granted—that childhood obesity and teenage smoking are public health concerns of a comparable nature. Both lead to a lifetime serious medical conditions. Both are also preventable.

One of the most effective strategies employed to reduce the relevance of teenage smoking was to change kids' preferences. We made it illegal for tobacco companies to directly advertise to kids. Mascots such as Joe Camel and the Marlboro Man became icons of a past era, and information about the dangers of smoking could be presented in an environment where Big Tobacco was no longer welcome. Educators had the opportunity to speak to youth about the consequences of smoking without having to compete with glitzy advertising portraying tobacco as enjoyable and fun.

Retire Ronald is representative of a similar effort to get corporations to stop marketing directly to children. Preventing tobacco corporations was a logical step in the fight against teenage smoking, and similar restrictions on the fast food industry should be the next step in reversing the trend of childhood obesity.

It will be easier to educate kids about good nutrition and healthy choices in an environment free from the constant bombardment of commercials for chicken nuggets and fries.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Different Pitches: McDonald’s and the World Cup

Back in February, we blogged about the disconnect between the Winter Olympics and one of its biggest sponsors, McDonald’s. It’s a disingenuous partnership: are we really supposed to believe that the world’s best athletes would undermine their health by eating food we know is dangerously unhealthy?

And now, with the World Cup underway, it’s the same story all over again -- McDonald’s is a prominent sponsor of the most widely watched tournament on Earth. The corporation boasts that it “supports children’s well-being as an Official Sponsor and the Official Restaurant of the FIFA World Cup.”

But we know that McDonald’s practices are a primary factor in a growing generation of kids who are struggling with unprecedented levels of diet-related disease. And we know that McDonald’s spends millions each year on advertising that “is inherently deceptive and exploits children.”

Recent polls in both the UK and the US show that the majority of people want to keep McDonald’s out of events like the World Cup. A global celebration of soccer has no place for a corporation peddling the last thing would-be athletes should be putting in their bodies.

What do you think? Is this the right message to send to the millions of kids dreaming of being the next World Cup hero?


Thursday, July 1, 2010

Books, Not Burgers

It’s hard to argue against a program to improve literacy -- but what do you do when encouraging kids to read also means encouraging them to eat more Big Macs?

McDonald’s is collaborating with Detroit libraries to initiate the "Books & Backpacks" program, where kids collect stamps on bookmarks every time they borrow a book. The reward for a fully stamped bookmark is either a McDonald's Happy Meal or Mighty Kids Meal. “A McDonald's backpack and $20 gift card for books also will be given to one youth in a drawing at each library branch each month through the end of the year.”

Supporting local causes to generate positive publicity is a tried and true method of marketing that McDonald’s has been relying on since the late 1950’s. “We got into it for very selfish reasons,” Fred Turner, former CEO and Chairman once told an interviewer. “It was an inexpensive, imaginative way of getting your name before the public and building a reputation to offset the image of selling fifteen cent hamburgers. It was probably ninety-nine percent commercial.”

It also provides a handy shield against criticisms about their other not so image-friendly corporate practices.

Michigan is currently the 10th most obese state in the country, and childhood obesity rates are on the rise. By making McDonald’s a reward for reading, Detroit is sending extremely mixed messages to its children and contributing to the national obesity epidemic.

Encouraging kids to read is a worthy cause. But we should not have to sacrifice the health and physical well-being of our children in order to do so.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Victory for Monsanto or PR spin?

On Monday, June 21, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a ruling that many headlines proclaimed a victory for seed and chemical giant Monsanto-- but the true story of the decision may lay in details that have been largely overlooked.

Although the Supreme Court ruled that the District Court in San Francisco did not have the authority to impose a complete ban on all planting of the genetically modified alfalfa seed, nor the ability to outlaw a “partial deregulation”, the ruling did not allow for planting to begin. Instead, the Supreme Court allowed the USDA to re-pursue partial deregulation of the seed but left the door wide open for future legal challenges of the testing and planting of the Roundup Ready alfalfa.

One of the strongest arguments for any future action against the deregulation of the Monsanto alfalfa seed came out of the ruling in the Supreme Court’s definition of “environmental harm” due to “gene flow.” Gene flow refers to the process of the spread of genetic material between plants due to cross pollination, wind, and other naturally occurring forces. It can lead to modified genetic material from Roundup Ready alfalfa plants mixing with that of unmodified alfalfa in other fields and farms. The Court expanded its definition of “environmental harm,” to include this almost inevitable process that often leads to contamination of organic and wild varieties of crops and possibly the extinction of these natural genetic structures, meaning that it is accepted as harmful and illegal.

Look for this argument and other ammunition from organic and food safety groups in the next round of legal battles surrounding the hotly contested issue of genetically modified seed and crops.

Post by John Skinner