witness statement

name: Peter David Cox
section: Nutrition
for: The Defence
experience: Writer and researcher into food, health and food marketing


The plaintiffs are in the business of selling hamburgers. Had they left it at that, they could not be reasonably criticised for "deliberately misleading the public as to the nutritional value of the food they sell". However, the plaintiffs have deliberately sought to pass their products off as "a very valuable part of a healthy diet".In these health-conscious times, this is no doubt an extremely effective marketing device. But that is all it is. It is not the truth.


see Introduction

Full cv:
(not available for this witness)

full statement:


1. I am a writer and researcher into food, health and associated matters. Previously, I was the first chief executive of the Vegetarian Society of the United Kingdom (a charity), and prior to that I founded and managed an advertising agency for ten years before selling it. I am experienced in many aspects of consumer marketing, advertising and public relations, and was a member of the Institute of Marketing. My special interest lies in the marketing of food, particularly meat products, to the general public. I am the author of a number of popular food and health books which seek to translate medical and scientific findings into language which is easily understood by a lay audience. Some titles include "The Quick Cholesterol Clean-Out" (Random House), "The Quick Cholesterol and Fat Counter" (Random House), "Why You Don't Need Meat" (Thorsons Publishers), and "The New Why You Don't Need Meat" (Bloomsbury Publishing). My work has been favourably reviewed in a wide range of publications, including The Lancet and Nursing Times. I am frequently invited to lecture before specialist audiences on the deceptive marketing of meat products (for example, before the Nutrition Consultants Association) and the British Medical Association has recently requested me to write for its magazine on this subject.

What's Wrong With McDonalds

2. I have seen the leaflet entitled "What's wrong with McDonald's?" and also various promotional leaflets and other material produced by the plaintiffs. The remarks that follow are concerned with specific points arising therefrom. My general comment is as follows: The plaintiffs' literature is frequently very one-sided, stressing the positive qualities of the plaintiffs' products while omitting or minimising the negative aspects. None of the plaintiffs' promotional literature I have seen can be fairly said to give a truly balanced viewpoint. It is, therefore, essential that public comment and indeed vigorous criticism be allowed, no matter how ruffling it may be to the plaintiffs' own self-esteem. The leaflet entitled "What's wrong with McDonald's?" is certainly a highly-critical and uncompromising document, and I am quite sure the plaintiffs consider it to be most impertinent. However, impertinence is not a crime. When put into context against the 9 million spent by the plaintiffs on advertising in 1992, this meagre leaflet pales into utter insignificance.

Our democracy thrives on a multiplicity of viewpoints, of which advertising is one - but only one - component. For a commercial organisation to seek to extinguish voices - no matter how small - which state an opposing point of view is highly damaging to the public interest, and contrary to British tradition and culture.

3. Item 4(F) of the plaintiffs' Statement of Claim asserts that the leaflet entitled "What's wrong with McDonald's?" contends that the plaintiffs "are deliberately misleading the public as to the nutritional value of the food they sell when they know full well that the contents of an average McDonald's meal are linked with cancers of the breasts and bowel, and heart disease."

Misleading Nutritional Information

This is fair comment. McDonald's have certainly produced misleading nutritional information for the public. In evidence I cite the following:

A) Heart Disease

The plaintiffs "are deliberately misleading the public as to the nutritional value of the food they sell when they know full well that the contents of an average McDonald's meal are linked with heart disease."

The British government's Department of Health states that mortality from coronary heart disease is amongst the highest in the world; that death rates from coronary heart disease in different countries are associated with national fat consumption; and that the association between coronary heart disease mortality is closest with saturated fatty acid supplies in the diet.

The plaintiffs clearly accept this. In their leaflet "McDonald's Food: The Facts" the following statements are made:

"Saturates tend to raise the blood cholesterol level while polyunsaturates lower it. Too high an intake of saturated fat may increase the risk of heart disease." (NB: The preceding was printed in extremely small type, and almost certain to be overlooked)

And the following "Healthy Diet" advice is given:

"Eat less fat (particularly saturated fat)"

If the plaintiffs therefore wish to convey accurate nutritional information to the public, they must, as a priority, tell the public what the saturated fat content of their food is, and tell them in terms which are generally accepted, easy to comprehend, and easy to implement. They fail to do this.

Conventionally, fat intakes are expressed as a proportion of dietary energy. This allows for the direct comparison of one food with another (e.g. spaghetti obtains about 5 per cent of its energy from fat, pork sausage about 75 per cent: hence we may safely deduce that spaghetti is lower in fat). However, the plaintiffs choose not to follow this convention. Instead, they present both total fat and saturated fat content of their products as grams of fat/saturated fat per serving. Hence we learn that a "Quarter Pounder with Cheese" contains 26.4 grams of fat (of which 14 grams is saturated) and a "Big Mac" contains 32.2 grams of fat (of which 12.4 grams is saturated). These figures are virtually incomprehensible to a lay audience, and impossible to put into the context of a healthy diet (which is what the plaintiffs' leaflet purports to do).

The expression of fat intake as a proportion of dietary energy is also valuable in one further respect: it allows the health-conscious consumer to compare a certain food or menu to the Department of Health's Dietary Reference Values (DRVs) for fat. Currently, it is suggested that total fat should provide about 35 per cent of total dietary energy, and saturated fat about 10 per cent. It is worth pointing out that many experts suggest individual limits considerably below these population averages.

In this context, an analysis of the plaintiffs' products is most revealing. From raw figures supplied in the plaintiffs' literature, I have calculated that many of the plaintiffs' products exceed official guidelines on healthy fat intake. The calculations are as follows:

Product% Of Energy From Fat% Of Energy From Saturated fat
Quarter Pounder42%20%
Quarter Pounder with Cheese46%25%
Big Mac71%28%
Breakfast Menu54%28%
Sausage & Egg McMuffin51%24%
Chicken McNuggets54%14%

From the above table it can be seen that not only are many of the most popular products high in total fat, but also many of them are particularly unhealthy inasmuch as they considerably exceed the 10 per cent saturated fat level. Revealingly, their public relations manager has even admitted that "a relatively high percentage of the energy in our food comes from fat." It is not difficult to see why the plaintiffs do not present this information to the public.

B) Cancers

The plaintiffs "are deliberately misleading the public as to the nutritional value of the food they sell when they know full well that the contents of an average McDonald's meal are linked with cancers of the breast and bowel."

I have perused the following leaflets produced by the plaintiffs:

None of them mentions cancer of the breast or bowel, although it is fair to assume that the plaintiffs are au fait with the widely-accepted connection between unhealthy diets and the incidence of various forms of cancers (see, for example, the Department of Health's "Dietary Reference Values for Food Energy and Nutrients for the United Kingdom" concerning the association between fat consumption and breast cancer, and fat consumption / meat consumption and colon cancer).

Restaurateurs are, of course, under no obligation whatsoever to advocate a healthy lifestyle, to sell healthy food beyond the requirements of food labelling and hygiene regulations, nor to proffer nutritional advice.

However, if they clearly elect to cast themselves in the role of nutritional consultants to the public - as the plaintiffs most conspicuously do - then the plaintiffs have a solemn obligation to tell the truth - and to tell all of it.

To attempt to pass off hamburgers, chips, milk shakes and various other fried foodstuffs as "good nutritious foods" - as is the overt intention of the plaintiffs - is seriously deceptive. The effect is to debase the concept of "healthy eating" to no more than a cynical sales promotional ploy.

If the plaintiffs were as genuinely interested in promoting healthy eating as they profess to be, I would expect to see:

  • i) Far more emphasis on the consumption of fresh vegetables. There is a huge and accumulating amount of scientific evidence that the consumption of certain vegetables can dramatically reduce the incidence of many common cancers. For example, the form of vitamin A found in plant foods (beta-carotene) has been found to protect against several forms of cancers. The plaintiffs' comment on this vitamin is to warn that "excessive amounts can be dangerous" , demonstrating their incomplete understanding of the form and function of this nutrient.

  • ii) A sincere attempt to introduce non-meat burgers and meat analogue products to the public. Many scientific studies demonstrate the connection between meat consumption and the incidence of many forms of cancers, including breast cancer, colon cancer and indeed total mortality from cancer. Further research shows that burger-type cooked meat patties are liable to contain mutagens - chemicals which are linked to cancer and chromosome damage - which are not present in vegetable-protein products. In this respect, I should mention and applaud the product range of Burger-King, who do indeed offer a vegetable burger alternative.

    C) 'Junk Food'

    My conclusion. The plaintiffs have chosen to unequivocally assert that their products are not what is popularly known as "junk food" , and are desirous to profess that their products are healthy and indeed health-inducing. The evidence I have discussed above demonstrates that the plaintiffs:

    The plaintiffs are in the business of selling hamburgers. Had they left it at that, they could not be reasonably criticised for "deliberately misleading the public as to the nutritional value of the food they sell". However, the plaintiffs have deliberately sought to pass their products off as very valuable part of a healthy diet".n these health-conscious times, this is no doubt an extremely effective marketing device. But that is all it is. It is not the truth.

    If the plaintiffs insist on making this sort of provocative and reckless statement, then they must also expect to be robustly challenged, as indeed they rightly have been by the defendants.


    4. Item 4(G) of the plaintiffs' Statement of Claim refers to "synthetic" chips and lack of bulk in the plaintiffs' food. I would consider that spraying a sugar solution onto chips could indeed result in a product which might be termed "synthetic". In his autobiography Ray Kroc, the plaintiffs' founder, makes it clear that his preference is for the synthetic variety: "There were die-hards in our organization", he wrote, "who thought that the only good french fry was one made from a fresh potato." Unfortunately for the plaintiffs, there may well be some die-hards amongst the British public who still think so.

    The latter comment concerning bulk and ease of chewing is surely a matter of personal opinion.

    Heart Disease and 'Cravings"

    5. Item 4(H) of the plaintiffs' Statement of Claim is very confused. May I request that I have already at least in part covered the matter of heart disease. As far as sugar and sodium (salt) content is concerned, it is quite obvious that both are powerfully attractive flavourings for the human species, and that products which contain these substances will tend to be sought after. Certainly, there are cases of both sugar and salt "cravings" or addictions. As far as "earning greater profits for themselves" is concerned, I rather thought that that was the prime function of the plaintiffs, perhaps their shareholders believe this too. I would like to amplify my comment here subject to clarification by the plaintiffs of their Statement of Claim.

    Uniformity of Food

    6. Item 4(I) of the plaintiffs' Statement of Claim refers to the gimmickry in the plaintiffs' restaurants and the uniformity of their food world-wide.

    a) There is an ironic saying in the advertising world that the more a product is advertised, the poorer its quality. The plaintiffs are certainly major advertisers, upon which they rely to bring custom into their restaurants. I have already demonstrated that much of the food on offer is indeed of "low quality", being both high in total fat, high in saturated fat and generally deficient in the important plant-associated nutrients. The British do indeed have an appropriate appellation for this type of food - it is termed "junk food". This label obviously upsets the plaintiffs, but the truth often does. Were they to take real steps to improve the fare on offer, then they might justifiably loose this label - but not until.

    b) The list of additives, preservatives and other chemicals presented by the plaintiffs in their booklet "McDonald's Food: The Facts" clearly shows that the defendants are indeed major users of these chemicals. It is idle for the plaintiffs to claim that they aspire to anything other that total uniformity in their products; this is the basis of mass production, and certainly the thinking behind such institutions as the plaintiffs' "Hamburger University". I would like to amplify my comment here subject to clarification by the plaintiffs of their Statement of Claim.

    Marketing Toward Children

    7. Item 4(J) of the plaintiffs' Statement of Claim refers to the marketing which the plaintiffs direct towards children which is intended to pressurise their parents into visiting the plaintiffs' restaurants.

    This is a straightforward, albeit not particularly ethical, advertising tactic. It is lucidly explained by the plaintiffs' founder: "A child who loves our TV commercials and brings her grandparents to a McDonald's gives us two more customers". For the plaintiffs to deny that their advertising particularly targets children is, I would have thought, utterly untenable. I would like to amplify my comment here subject to clarification by the plaintiffs of their Statement of Claim.

    8. Item 4(K) of the plaintiffs' Statement of Claim refers to the plaintiffs' promotion of their products to children while knowing that the contents could poison them.

    The dietary habits of children are exceptionally important. Bad food patterns set at an early age can literally condemn a child to a lifetime of ill health or an early grave. Many, many specialists are increasingly concerned that large numbers of children are eating a nutritionally inadequate diet. The plaintiffs themselves assert that "Our problem is that we tend to eat too much of some nutrients and not enough of others. This imbalance can lead to a number of diet-related diseases". Once again, by setting themselves up as nutritional advisors to the world, the plaintiffs are shouldering an onerous burden, not one which sits easily with their business of selling burgers, milkshakes and chips. If the plaintiffs are indeed aware of the many connections between diet and disease, then they are acting with extraordinary irresponsibility in aggressively promoting their high-fat, low nutrient (i.e. "junk food") diet to children. The word "poison" is not too strong in this context. Again, I would like to amplify my comment here subject to clarification by the plaintiffs of their Statement of Claim.

    9. The plaintiffs' Statement of Claim refers to various other matters which I would like to comment upon subject to the plaintiffs' clarification.

    supplementary statement:

    date signed: December 9, 1993

    1. I understand that an application has been made to the court by the plaintiffs concerning that portion of my testimony dated July 26th 1993, clause 5 relating to sugar and salt cravings or addictions. Accordingly, may I respectfully submit the following further testimony to the court for its consideration.

    2. It is particularly bizarre, and indeed almost beyond belief, that the plaintiffs seem to be suggesting in all seriousness that there are not and have not been cases of sugar and salt cravings. The English language itself reflects the reality of sugar cravings in the time-honoured phrase to describe someone thus disposed as "having a sweet tooth". This being accepted, I would have thought that further exposition is in reality unnecessary.

    3. Perhaps the plaintiffs object to the implication of the word "addiction", generally associated with drug addicts. The precise point at which a preference becomes a craving, and at which a craving becomes an addiction, is subjective and largely of semantic interest. The plaintiffs would be wrong to assume, if perhaps they do, that I use the word "addiction" to directly equate their products with the so-called "hard drugs" more commonly associated with the word "addiction". The term "addiction" is not used exclusively in the context of "hard drugs". For example, may I cite Ricciardo's recent exposition of "sugar addiction" and its significance to alcohol addiction, as published in the professional journal Alcoholism Treatment Quarterly.

    4. Further, I would like to mention that there have been long-standing concerns about sugar addiction and its impact on childhood development. I would cite, inter alia, Charlton-Seifert's review of the subject in the professional journal Academic Therapy which discusses "its addictive quality, its judgement altering capacity for those allergic to it, and its hyperactive associations". Further concerns have been expressed about the impact of sugar in combination with caffeine (also sold by the plaintiffs) on learning function in children.

    5. The exact physiological bases underlying sugar and salt addictions and cravings are by no means fully established and will no doubt be the subject of further research. Symptoms once attributed to hypoglycaemia may, in fact, be symptoms of addiction-I cite Rippere in the Lancet: "Masked addiction to commonly and frequently ingested foods may be suspected when similar symptoms occur upon failure to consume them regularly". One recent study of female bulimics indicates that glucose sensitivity may be involved. Following a glucose injection, the subjects experienced "cravings for sweets and fruits, an enhanced urge to binge, and less subjective control over food intake". The same is certainly true of salt; it has been established that consuming salt directly increases our preference for salty foodstuffs (I cite, for example, research conducted at the University of Pennsylvania Hospital). This would suggest that, at least in certain people, a feedback process might comprise a key element of the addictive process. Whether or not this is in fact the (or one) mechanism of addiction is only peripherally relevant to the case before the court; the subjective reality of the phenomenon is established.

    6. Should there be further representations to the court on this matter I would of course be pleased to submit further testimony.

    date signed: July 26, 1993
    status: Appeared in court
    references: Not applicable/ available
    exhibits: Not applicable/ available

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