The claims were revealed at the libel trial in which the burger company accuses two environmentalists from north London of writing, publishing and distributing a leaflet which claims that McDonald's is partly responsible for destruction of the ozone layer and the rainforests, and that its food causes cancer and heart disease.
In 1987, the fast-food chain began an advertising campaign which focused on the role McDonald's food could play in a balanced diet. The campaign featured advertisements such as a carton of milk perched on a burger which was balanced on top of a packet of fries. Beneath them was the word 'balance'.
In response to the campaign, the attorneys-general of New York, California and Texas wrote a letter of complaint to McDonald's.
They said: 'Our mutual conclusion is that this advertising campaign is deceptive and the overall impact of the campaign is to deceive consumers into believing that McDonald's food is healthy and wholesome.
'McDonald's own publications reveal repeated examples of foods containing unhealthful levels of sodium, fat or cholesterol. We therefore request that McDonald's immediately cease and desist the further use of this campaign.'
In the letter, John Mattox, the Attorney General of Texas, said: 'McDonald's food is not as a whole nutritious. The intent and result of the current campaign is to deceive consumers into believing the opposite.'
John Horwitz, assistant general counsel of McDonald's, said the advertisements were only to 'indicate that McDonald's meals or food can be part of a well balanced diet'. He added: 'I cannot ever recall there being a time in McDonald's that three meals a day or 21 meals a week was recommended but balance and moderation was always a thought.' Mr Horwitz denied that McDonald's intended to deceive the public.
The contents of a memorandum from an American public relations firm was read to the court by Richard Rampton QC, for McDonald's. The memo was written before the advertisements were produced and was intended to guide the company in the subsequent campaign.
It said: 'If possible McDonald's should attempt to deflect the basic negative thrust of our critics . . . How do we do this? By talking moderation and balance. We can't at this stage of the situation really address or defend nutrition. We don't sell nutrition and people don't come to McDonald's for nutrition.'
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