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UPDATED: Beef extracts poser on McDonald's french fries

Hindus and vegetarians here are jolted by a US class-action lawsuit relating to allegations of McDonald's using beef ingredient in its french fries. McDonald's Malaysian franchisee says it uses palm oil-based cooking oil instead...
Posted on 01.02pm May 21, 2001

FRENCH FRIES... McDonald's Malaysian franchisee - Golden Arches Restaurants - said its outlets do not use beef extract in preparing french fries, but instead fry them in palm oil-based cooking oil. UPDATES: Friday May 25, 2001
THE TIMES: The chips are down at McDonald's
THE TELEGRAPH: McDonald's admits using beef fat for 'vegetarian' french fries
THE INDEPENDENT: McDonald's admits using beef fat for 'vegetarian' french fries
THE MIRROR: McDonald's veggie sorry
TIMES OF INDIA: `I will force McDonald's to stop using beef tallow': Bharti


By usjXpress Team
Email: edteam@usj.com.my



SUBANG JAYA (Updated: 4.01pm May 21): Hindus and vegetarians here are jolted by news of a class-action lawsuit in the US relating to allegations of McDonalds using beef ingredient in its french fries.

McDonald's, which has a total of five outlets in Subang Jaya, USJ and Bandar Sunway, is a popular restaurant chain among Malaysians.

McDonald's Malaysian franchisee Golden Arches Restaurants said its outlets do not use beef extract in preparing french fries, but instead fry them in palm oil-based cooking oil.

A spokesman told The Star that the freshly-cut potato fries are par-fried using sunflower or palm olein at the factory overseas and in palm oil-based cooking oil in Malaysia later.

"Ever since McDonald's Malaysia started operations in 1982, we have never used beef tallow in the processing or cooking of our french fries," the spokesman said.

"McDonald's is very sensitive towards the culture and the religious sentiments of our customers in Malaysia," he said in response to claims overseas that its french fries might be laced with beef extract or tallow as "natural flavouring."

CLASS-ACTION

On May 3, The Seattle Times reported that three plaintiffs - two Hindu vegetarians and one non-Hindu vegetarian - had filed a class-action lawsuit against DcDonald's for using beef tallow in the processing of french fries.

The suit alleges that the fast-food giant misled its customers by presenting its golden fries as vegetarian for more than 10 years.

Harish Bharti, the Seattle lawyer who filed the case May 1 at King County Superior Court, says that contrary to the company's public statements and advertising, McDonald's fries are prepared using beef fat.

If Bharti is right, the class of people with a grievance against McDonald's - which reported U.S. sales of more than $19 billion in 1999 - could be huge. He believes the suit is the first of its kind in the US nationwide.

According to The Seattle Times, McDonald's has, in response, confirmed that its French fries "are prepared with beef extract - a revelation the company said is not new."

The North-Western US newspaper said though the fast-food giant has been saying since 1990 that its fries are cooked in pure vegetable oil, company spokesman Walt Riker revealed that McDonald's never claimed its fries were appropriate for vegetarians and always told customers that their flavor comes partly from beef.

But Riker emphasised that beef extract - not beef tallow, as the suit alleges - is the only natural flavor in McDonald's French fries.

Asked by Seattle Times why the company simply did not write "beef extract" on its list of ingredients, Riker replied that using "natural flavor" as a synonym for beef extract is within federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) guidelines.

Bharti says he has proof that McDonald's fries are prepared using beef. He cites his own research, an e-mail from the company that says as much, and the recently published best-seller "Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal".

In that book, investigative reporter Eric Schlosser notes that before 1990, when concern about cholesterol spread across the nation, McDonald's used beef fat, or tallow, to flavor its fries.

"For decades, McDonald's cooked its french fries in a mixture of about 7 percent cottonseed oil and 93 percent beef tallow," he writes.

"The mix gave the fries their unique flavor - and more saturated beef fat per ounce than a McDonald's hamburger," the writer says.

'NATURAL FLAVOUR'

Facing a class-action lawsuit from angry vegetarians, McDonald's USA confirmed that customers had to ask in order to find out about the beef.

The Seattle Times said the list of French-fry ingredients that McDonald's offers at its franchises and on its Web site includes potatoes, partially hydrogenated soybean oil and "natural flavor.

However, the list does not mention that the "natural flavor" comes from beef. To discover that, one would have to contact a McDonald's customer-satisfaction representative.

Harish Bharti said the confirmation that the company uses beef extract to flavor its fries validates his case.

Bharti argues that a reasonable person who heard that McDonald's fries are prepared in "100 percent vegetable oil" and read the list of ingredients would assume the food is suitable for vegetarians.

Bharti's suit seeks unspecified damages for the "emotional distress" caused to U.S. vegetarians - some of them religious vegetarians - who thought McDonald's fries were in line with their strong feelings about not eating meat.

Bharti said McDonald's contention that the information on beef-extract flavoring was available to people if only they had asked is insulting.

"Not only did they deceive these people," he said.

He told The Seattle Times: "Now they are claiming that all these people were deceived because they were stupid. This adds insult to injury."

Bharti said, after news of his suit spread across the nation, he was receiving hundreds of calls from vegetarians who think they were misled by McDonald's and want to join the suit.

Some of them, he said, claim they were told by McDonald's employees that the fries were vegetarian.

PREPARING FRENCH FRIES

According to The Seattle Times, McDonald's french fries are essentially cooked twice.

Central suppliers wash, steam-peel, cut, blanch, dry, par-fry and then freeze the potatoes that make the famous golden slivers.

During the par-frying, "a minuscule amount of beef extract is added," said the paper, quoting a statement from McDonald's.

Later, after being shipped to McDonald's franchises, the frozen fries are cooked in pure vegetable oil.

However, in countries such as India, where large numbers of people are vegetarian for religious reasons, McDonald's suppliers do not add beef extract to the fries, Riker said.

REACTION IN MALAYSIA

Meanwhile, The Star quoted Malaysian Vegetarian Society vice-president N. Ravindren as saying that many vegetarians ate the fries because they thought that it was the only vegetarian item available at McDonald's.

"We are now seeing articles published in the United States which claim that natural flavouring from beef extract is used in its preparation," Ravindren said.

Malaysian Hindu Sangam president A. Vaithilingam hoped the allegations were false, adding that vegetarians must not be given a raw deal.


You may contact Seattle Times staff reporter Eli Sanders at +206-748-5815 or email: esanders@seattletimes.com


* READ THE Seattle Times REPORTS:
Fast-food lawsuit extracts a fry fact
Vegetarians beefing over fries: McDonald's uses beef fat, suit claims

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