In an Aug. 13 press release, the chain said the company's Web site,www.mcdonalds.com, now includes updated details on whether "a naturalflavor comes from a dairy, meat or vegetable source." The site admitsthe natural flavors used in McDonald's french fries contain beef,whereas previous ingredient listings did not explain the makeup of"natural flavors." The updated information also will be available inprinted pamphlets in McDonald's restaurants.
McDonald's spokesman Mike Gordon refused to comment on the lawsuit,saying only that the company had received "an increase in consumerrequests for additional information beyond what the (federal) guidelinesrequire." The U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not require foodproducers to specify ingredients within natural flavorings.
The class-action lawsuit, filed in May by Seattle lawyer HarishBharti, claims McDonald's willfully misled customers by not explicitlystating that its french fries still contained beef extract even afterthe company began cooking them in vegetable oil in 1990. Hindus regardthe cow as sacred and do not eat beef.
Bharti, who is Hindu and a vegetarian, called the action "longoverdue" and "a big benefit in the long range for the whole foodindustry," adding that he hoped other fast-food chains would followMcDonald's lead.
A few weeks after Bharti filed the lawsuit, McDonald's issued anapology for creating confusion among customers and admitted beef extractwas used in the fries' par-frying process. The statement said, however,that the company had never claimed its french fries were vegetarian.
But in a 1993 letter to a vegetarian customer, a scanned copy ofwhich Bharti made available to Religion News Service, a McDonald'scustomer service manager included french fries among "several items thatvegetarians can enjoy."
He said the letter is crucial to his case and that he has askedMcDonald's to hand over all similar documents.
Gordon said he had not seen the letter but that "there may have beensome misstatements" regarding the french fries' ingredients since theswitch from beef tallow to vegetable oil.
The case is expected to go to trial in December 2002.