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Winter 2004 - Act•ionLine

by Lee Hall | Winter 2004

Movement Watch

MOVEMENT WATCH is an update on recent and current campaigns in the animal advocacy movement, with brief, rights-based analyses. MOVEMENT WATCH does not provide a full overview of any listed advocacy group’s work. Campaigns and news items are selected for their legal and social significance.


McDonald’s Wins Rights to Vegetarian Society Logo

Customers at British McDonald’s restaurants will now see a “Vegetarian Society Approved” badge on the same menu that offers Big Macs and Chicken McNuggets. In October, the international media announced that McDonald’s had prevailed upon the Vegetarian Society (not connected with the Vegan Society) to allow the burger giant to improve its public relations by displaying the Vegetarian Society’s badge.

McDonald’s will pay the Vegetarian Society an undisclosed fee for access to the trademark.

Ironically, as a writer from the MediaGuardian pointed out, the Vegetarian Society’s website quotes Alexander Pope as saying: “Nothing can be more shocking and horrid than one of our kitchens sprinkled with blood and abounding with the cries of expiring victims or with the limbs of dead animals scattered or hung up here and there.”1

Presumably, Vegetarian Society leaders know that McDonald’s is the world’s largest cause of expiring cows, and the second largest user of the limbs of dead chickens.2

When interviewed in news reports, those leaders cited the availability of such items as a new garden salad and yoghurt, acknowledged that the embattled fast food chain would be likely to gain positive publicity from gaining access to the logo, but defended the collaboration on the grounds that the Society prefers not to be “a vegetarian elite.” Unfortunately, they are assisting the elites who control a huge percentage of the world’s food market. On a given day, the number of people worldwide eating at McDonald’s exceeds the entire population of Spain.3 The deal with McDonald’s will make it harder for the independent, truly vegetarian co-ops and restaurants to survive.


McDonald’s Threatened to Sue the Vegetarian Society in 1990

The surreal history between the Vegetarian Society and McDonald’s goes back 15 years. The Society is one of many recipients of threatening letters from the burger giant which, over the years, has become miffed at numerous daily newspapers, television stations, various green groups, animal rights groups, small businesses, and employee advocates.4

In 1990, the Vegetarian Society published an interview which connected McDonald’s with tropical rainforest destruction. (The interviewee says to “tell them the truth behind the façade of Ronald McDonald’s. Tell them about the animals thrashing as their throats are cut. Tell them about the destruction of the rainforests.”)

The home of the Happy Meal was unhappy with this negative publicity. The McDonald’s Corporation of Oakbrook, Illinois, along with McDonald’s Restaurants Limited in Britain, sent a libel threat to the magazine at issue, Greenscene. The multinational denied having a destructive impact on rainforests. The company brought up its “support for the conservation of wildlife and natural resources throughout the world” and invoked the World Wildlife Fund to back its position.5

The Vegetarian Society invited McDonald’s to take part in an open debate over the issue in Greenscene; McDonald’s declined. Concerned about the financial pressure of legal fees, the Society ultimately issued a public apology.


Other McDonald’s PR Initiatives

Hoping to counter the threat of a ban on advertising its burgers and fried foods to children, McDonald’s has just launched a health-conscious campaign for children.6 In contrast with the theme of most of its advertising, the corporation’s latest campaign will remind younger viewers to keep fit, eat fruits and vegetables, and “not to have too many treats,” in a series of two-minute television commercials featuring Ronald McDonald and dancing, cartoonish YumChums.7

Other public relations initiatives undertaken in recent years by McDonald’s include a partnership with the Center for Environmental Leadership in Business, a division of Conservation International. The company also points to increased efforts to save water and to recycle its paper and cardboard.

Not everyone is appeased by the company’s moves. The Australian Ronald McDonald walked off the job in August 2004 over the company’s use of genetically modified chicken feed.8According to Greenpeace, genetically engineered crops the U.S. and Argentina have meant increased chemical use, lower yields, herbicide resistant weeds and contamination of conventional crops. And Simon Harris, campaign director for the U.S.- based Organic Consumers Association, has observed that “McDonald’s represents the face of global corporatization. The company looks at the environment and at communities as resources to be extracted.”9


PeTA Wants the Government to Regulate Fur Farms

In August of 2004, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals “fired off a letter to the U.S. Department of Agriculture demanding that it begin protecting animals” raised for fur by including chinchillas, foxes, minks, and raccoons used in fur under the provisions of federal Animal Welfare Act.10 The group also asked the Michigan Agriculture Department to regulate killing on fur farms.

PeTA’s Mary Beth Sweetland wrote to a USDA regional Animal Care division director regarding a Michigan company, Okes Chinchillas. PeTA’s letter states, in part:

The enclosed video shows Robin Ouderkirk giving instructions on how to kill chinchillas by electrocution and cervical dislocation (neck-breaking). As you can see from the video, the animals are electrocuted from head to tail instead of through the brain, as is required in order to be humane.

The letter added that neck-breaking “may not be an appropriate killing method because of the size of the chinchillas.” Citing a report from a national veterinary panel, PeTA writes that “electrocution is not recommended for animals as small as chinchillas, and they are not mentioned under the report’s cervical-dislocation section, but they are mentioned under the section on carbon-monoxide poisoning.” PeTA concludes that gassing is the acceptable means of killing animals used for fur or other purposes, whereas “the Ouderkirks’ use of both electrocution techniques and cervical dislocation is improper.”

As the federal Animal Welfare Act expands, it codifies ever more forms of exploitation of other animals. Logically, the federal government or the government of any state could not “begin protecting” mammals by hardening the commodification of these animals into law. Moreover, a definition of “protecting” other animals that’s broad enough to include the regulation of killing them is peculiar indeed.


Fashion Industry Trumpets Resurgence of Fur

The past year has seen a resurgence of fur on fashion models around the world. Global fur sales have increased steadily in recent years, from $8.2 billion in 1998-99 to $11.3 billion in 2002-03, with the year-end totals for 2004 expected to rise for the sixth consecutive year.11 A substantial part of the trend involves cheap clothes marketed to young people through the outlet stores.12

How did it happen? To counter the negative image of furs of the late 1980’s, the world’s largest producer of fashion furs set up an educational hub outside Copenhagen. The producer is SAGA, the marketing division for Scandinavian fur traders; its courses on using fur as a “fashion fabric” have drawn thousands of designers. SAGA press releases are now the indicators of which designers will be showing fur. Meanwhile, fur trade associations have issued chains of releases heralding the donning of fur by celebrities such as Naomi Campbell and Kate Moss.

“Fur has become fashionable again and women will wear anything that’s fashionable,” said Richard D. North, a fellow of Britain’s Institute of Economic Affairs. Much real fur now looks like fake fur — a factor cited in a recent Sydney Morning Herald report as helping real fur to return.13

Minks and foxes line the SAGA institute’s halls, in rows of cages. The minks are gassed and the foxes are anally electrocuted. Richard North is unmoved. “They are treated better than farm animals,” North has stated. “They are not moved to their slaughter. They are killed quickly in situ.”

Although “better than farm animals” is hardly a glowing endorsement for the quality of these animals’ lives, North’s words contain a kernel of truth. People are unlikely to stop wearing the skins of other animals as long as it is acceptable to eat other animals. Given that reality, Friends of Animals campaigns are addressing both issues in creative advertising, editorial, and letter-writing initiatives, complementing peaceful yet high-profile protests. Friends of Animals representatives also meet with fashion house managers (most recently Prada in New York) to let them know that activism for ethical standards in clothing is alive and well.


The Zara Chain Promises to Stop Fur Sales (Again)

There are some hopeful signs for international anti-fur advocacy. Britain has phased out its fur farms, and the Canadian company Aldo stopped selling fur in British stores in 2003. Given London’s reputation as a fashion trend-setter, the impact of such decisions has international impact.

In autumn 2004, Inditex Group’s retail chain Zara — which, despite the global recession, opened over 360 new stores in 2003 — withdrew fur products from all its stores. The announcement came just three days before a planned international day of action against the company’s use of fur.14

In 2001, Inditex had decided to use only rabbit skins, and pledged that all fur and leather sold in its stores would come from animals raised on “humanitarian” farms “and under no circumstance from animals sacrificed exclusively for the exploitation of their skins.”15 In early September 2004, one of the company’s directors acknowledged that “some of our products contain fur, but only rabbit fur, a by-product of the food industry.”16 By the end of the same month, Inditex pledged to drop fur altogether.

The firm wrote an open letter to customers explaining its decision.17 “The measure is one step further in our commitment to respect the animals and environment surrounding us,” chief executive José María Castellano Ríos wrote. How refreshing to see the word “respect” rather than the more common use of rhetoric about “protecting” other animals.

All Zara stores, throughout a total of 54 nations, will take fur off the shelves by New Year’s Day 2005, never to sell fur again, according to the open letter. The end of U.S., British, and Scandinavian sales was scheduled in September 2004, but activists should be alert. Inditex has ditched fur in Britain before, following a campaign in 2003, but was slow to take it off the shelves, and reintroduced it by early 2004.18

Fashion entrepreneurs Amancio Ortega Gaona and Rosalia Mera founded Spanish textile company Inditex in 1985. Ortega, who currently chairs the company, is now the richest person in Spain, with a net worth reported at $9.2 billion.19

 

  • 1. Cited by Stephen Brook, “Vegetarian Society Backs McDonald’s Products,” The MediaGuardian (1 Oct. 2004) http://media.guardian.co.uk/site/story/0,14173,1316818,00.html.
  • 2. McSpotlight (from submissions in the McLibel case), “Rearing and Slaughter of Animals,” http://www.mcspotlight.org/case/pretrial/defence/animals.html (citing McDonald’s promotional materials).
  • 3. Eleanor Ringel Gillespie, “‘Super Size’ Message Clear Despite Clowning,” The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (20 May 2004).
  • 4. See McSpotlight, “Other McLibels,” http://www.mcspotlight.org/company/other_mclibels/.
  • 5. See McSpotlight, “Other McLibels: Vegetarian Society,” http://www.mcspotlight.org/company/other_mclibels/veg_soc.html.
  • 6. Hilary Marshall, “McDonald’s Tries to Deflect Critics,” The Scotsman (22 Jun. 2004).
  • 7. McDonald’s Press Release: “YumChums Spring Into Action” (1 Aug. 2004).
  • 8. Greenpeace New Zealand: “Ronald McDonald Quits Over GE Chicken Feed” (21 Apr. 2004) http://www.greenpeace.org.nz/news/news_main.asp?offset=10&PRID=680.
  • 9. Sandra Guy, “OCA Challenges McDonald’s Greenwashing: McDonald’s Issues Report on Social Responsibility,” Chicago Sun Times (17 Apr. 2002). OCA is a grass-roots non-profit focused on promoting a sustainable food system.
  • 10. Quoting People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals’ Web site. A scanned copy of the letter appears on the Internet at http://www.peta.org/feat/Chinchilla/page/chinchilla2.pdf.
  • 11. Valerie Lawson, “Fur Starts To Fly,” Sydney Morning Herald (4 Oct. 2004), citing the British Fur Trade Association.
  • 12. Valerie Lawson, “Fur Starts To Fly,” Sydney Morning Herald (4 Oct. 2004).
  • 13. Valerie Lawson, “Fur Starts To Fly,” Sydney Morning Herald (4 Oct. 2004).
  • 14. “Zara Chain Takes Fur Off Shelves,” BBC News (23 Sep. 2004). The first international protest was set for Saturday 25th September 2004. Zara store opening figures are cited in “World’s Richest People,” Forbes (2004).
  • 15. Lara Bradley, “Zara Drops Fur in Advance of Protest,” Sunday Independent (Ireland; 3 Oct. 2004).
  • 16. Laura Craik, Fashion Editor, “Fur and Against,” Evening Standard (London, 2 Sep. 2004) (quoting Mike Shearwood, managing director of Zara UK).
  • 17. The open letter to customers is dated 22 Sep. 2004 and a scanned copy currently appears on the London Animal Action Web site. See http://www.londonanimalaction.org.uk/zara/images/Carta-pieles-1.pdf.
  • 18. “Zara Chain Takes Fur Off Shelves,” BBC News (23 Sep. 2004).
  • 19. “World’s Richest People,” Forbes (2004).
Lee Hall

Act•ionLine Winter 2004

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