Posted by: bkivey | 22 July 2010


On 22 June 2010 the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) sent a letter to Jim Skinner, CEO of McDonald’s Corp., threatening the company with a  lawsuit to prevent McDonald’s from marketing toys with the company’s Happy Meals. The main points of the CSPI letter are: 

  • McDonald’s unfairly markets directly to children.
  • McDonald’s menu is not suited to small children.
  • McDonald’s seeks to build brand loyalty among small children through it’s Happy Meal toys and advertisements.
  • Exposure to McDonald’s menu items is responsible for a wide range of health problems.
  • Adults are so lacking in judgement and fortitude that they cannot control their children’s diet.

The CSPI letter also alleges that McDonald’s marketing practices are ‘illegal’ on three separate occasions, without providing any specific proof or citing any statutes that the practices do, in fact, meet the definition of illegal marketing. CSPI does cite various state statutes as a basis for it’s lawsuit in this paragraph: 

More specifically, and for purposes of our notice of intent to sue, McDonald’s has engaged in unfair and deceptive acts and practices by advertising and including toys with purchases of Happy Meals. McDonald’s practices violate state consumer protection laws, such as Massachusetts G.L. c. 93A et seq, Texas Business & Professions Code § 17.41 et seq, District of Columbia Code § 28-3905 et seq., New Jersey Statutes Ann. 56:8-1 et seq.,and California Business & Professions Code Section 17200.

I checked the codes cited and I sincerely hope that CSPI employees as a rule are more competent than the legal staff appears to be. All of the states define illegal trade practices in pretty much the same way and about the way most people would expect but nothing McDonald’s does fulfills the definition of ‘illegal trade practices’ as defined by the statutes. The California statute cited codifies the complaint process and defines prosecutorial authority; the more relevant code is Section 17500, and even that doesn’t proscribe the marketing of premiums with a product. 

I am not an attorney, but it appears to me that CSPI has no substantive argument, and judging by the letter McDonald’s CEO Jim Skinner sent to CSPI on 6 July 2010, McDonald’s legal department came to the same conclusion. In his response Mr. Skinner makes the following points: 

  • By it’s actions CSPI demonstrates that it is more interested in grandstanding than meaningful dialogue.
  • CSPI’s agenda lacks public support.
  • Parents can and do take responsibility for their children’s food choices and to state otherwise is insulting.
  • CSPI willfully skewed data to support it’s position.
  • McDonald’s has a long history of good corporate citizenship.

In short, Mr. Skinner told CSPI to take a hike. 

I am spotlighting this kerfuffle because it illustrates the plague of the professional busybody. There are entire industries built on and by people that have nothing better to do than tell other people how they should live their lives. Organizations like CSPI are emblematic of this problem. Not content. or able. to  make their case with rigorously vetted data supporting their positions, professional busybodies resort to scare tactics and threats of legal action. While CSPI lists it’s accomplishments, nowhere does it cite publications or any other data sources that support it’s positions and conclusions. 

I have news for the professional busybodies: it’s none of your business what I eat or how I spend my time or how much money I make or who I associate with or what my political views are or even whether I wear a seatbelt or not. You are not my parents and even if you were, it still wouldn’t be any of your business. Rational, mature adults don’t need or want people meddling in their lives. 

There are a lot of folks who do genuinely good work and are sincerely interested in public health and safety without beating people over the head with their political views. Unfortunately, a vocal minority of egotistic narcissists overshadows those efforts. It may be that people are getting fed up with the patronizing attitudes of that minority. 

It has been a defining characteristic of Americans that we don’t like to be told what to do, believing that the individual rather than the group knows how best to live their lives. That characteristic has dimmed considerably in recent decades as legions of do-gooders have convinced people that it is easier to let someone else tell them what’s best for them. I would like to see more of the attitude expressed by McDonald’s CEO: if an individual or organization barges into your life because they don’t happen to like how you operate, tell them to get stuffed. 







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