Public Health Practice in Australia: The Organised Effort

By Vivian Lin; James Smith et al. | Go to book overview

18

Futures of public health:
Where to now for the organised effort?

Challenge

The fast-food chain McDonald's has developed a global profile and significant reach into industries and the lives of people on every continent. In 1990, the infamous McLibel trial began between McDonald's and a postman and a gardener from London (Helen Steel and Dave Morris), members of a group called London Greenpeace (Vidal 1997). The case was based on claims made in a brochure distributed by the group, such as 'McDonald's try to show in their [Nutrition Guide] that massproduced hamburgers, chips, colas, milkshakes, etc. are a useful and nutritious part of any diet. What they don't make clear is that a diet high in fat, sugar, animal products and salt (sodium), and low in fibre, vitamins and minerals—which describes an average McDonald's meal—is linked with cancers of the breast and bowel and heart disease' (McSpotlight 2005).

At the end of the 313-day trial (the longest trial of any kind in England), Judge Bell delivered his 762-page judgement, ruling that McDonalds 'exploit children' with their advertising, are 'misleading' with their advertising, are 'culpably responsible' for cruelty to animals, are 'antipathetic' to unionisation and pay their workers low wages. However, Steel and Morris were not able to prove all the points claimed in their brochure (for example, that McDonald's had used lethal poisons to destroy significant areas of rainforest in Central America), so the judge ruled that they had to pay £60 000 damages on the basis that they had libelled McDonald's. The defendants refused to pay and this was not pursued (BBC 2005).

Regardless of the outcome, this case illustrated with startling clarity how a

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