McDonald's Lovin' Taiwan's Grease-friendly Government

By Christina MacFarquhar

Dr. Cathy Kapica, Global Nutrition Director of McDonald’s corporation, was not seen publicly burning copies of Eric Schlosser's books during her visit to Taiwan last week. But chances are that this leg of her Asia tour was part of a major PR campaign to discredit the author's new book and film about the fast food industry, which are said to have caused quite a stir in the corporation’s headquarters. However, there may be little cause for concern for McDonald’s in Taiwan, where the fast-food giant has successfully charmed its way into the hearts of consumers and government officials alike, blurring the line between health education and junk-food propaganda.

When addressing a health-conscious audience, Dr. Kapica, just like her good friend Ronald McDonald, knows better than to brag about the company’s burgers. Instead, she comes loaded with a lot of good, solid advice. For instance, on Saturday 20 May she talked about “helping children choose nutrient-rich foods” at a conference at Taichong’s Hungkuang University, co-organized by the Chinese Nutrition Society.


Grafitti in Xi-men Township, Taipei (LR)

The Society is just one of many groups with whom McDonald’s has succeeded in forming cozy partnerships in Taiwan. The Department of Health currently endorses the company's most well-known PR agent, Ronald McDonald, as he tours schools to educate children on health and hygiene. Also, in 1999 McDonald’s was granted permission by the Koo Foundation Sun Yet-Sen Cancer Center to set up Taiwan's first “Ronald McDonald Family Room” for the visitors of sick children, which has since been replicated in other hospitals around the country.

Yet it was less than ten years ago that courts in England ruled against the corporation on several charges relating to precisely this kind of false, manipulative PR campaigning. In the longest-running legal battle in English history, known as McLibel, activists Dave Morris and Helen Steel successfully proved that the company exploited children, was misleading in the healthy images portrayed in its advertising, and that eating too much McDonald’s food was linked to heart disease. Since the trial, the negative health, social and environmental effects of the fast food industry have repeatedly been highlighted in books, films and on websites.

So where was Taiwan when all this was going on? Everywhere one looks today, Ronald McDonald seems to have his big red foot in the door of some government agency, school or health institution, and is becoming an ever-more robust Trojan horse in the corporation’s campaign to keep kids munching on fries. Indeed, Ronald's mission has not been affected by the attacks on his creators, but he has instead been given a makeover and sent back out into society reinforced with a smart new set of principles - stolen straight from the mouths of his fiercest critics. And all it took was a little cut and paste job from the Dummie's Guide to Nutrition.

XXXXXXX

Notice of Wild censorship to Wild Readers.

You may have noticed the erratic activity on our website in an article concerning the recent visit of McDonald’s nutritionist to Taipei. The article was written by Christina Macfarquhar, a Wild volunteer who had been invited by an influential NGO in Taipei to serve as a volunteer interpreter during a meeting that the influential NGO held with the McDonald’s representative. The organization in question expressed its concern to Wild over the appearance and content of the article on our website. Although Wild fully endorses the views and opinions of Ms. Macfarquhar as stated in the article, we have asked her to edit the article pending clarification of the influential NGO’s concerns as well as their motivation and source. We apologize for this rather extreme and unprecedented reaction on the part of the association, however we believe there is reason for hope that the said influential NGO in question will in time better understand the facts of the situation as we understand them and that we will be able to pool the resources of Wild and the influential NGO in order to give society and the environment a better chance of stemming the onslaught from well financed smear campaigns. In the meantime of course, all members and volunteers of Wild remain free to do what they need to do through other channels, and we hope that they will be able to resume those activities in the name of Wild.

XXXXXXX
.
.
.
.
[Censored passage]
.
.
.
.

Whether or not the corporation would go the small extra distance to promote such an absurdity, the fact remains that, as company reps said ten years ago, if McDonald's were to sell healthy food, it wouldn't be McDonald's. Even as Dr. Kapica talked about nutrition in Taipei, a UK newspaper reported that McDonald's is abandoning its attempts to sell healthier foods in America and Britain, and instead bringing out bigger burgers than ever, which has caused renewed concern about the corporation's contribution to diet-related health problems amongst children and the less wealthy.

Of course no one should have the right to dictate what others eat. But while it is up to the individual customer to make this choice, there is something very sinister about a company that intentionally works its way into the consciousness of small children, plumping them up for the obesity ward while sending a smiling clown to sing songs with the kids suffering from cancer next door. As Helen Steel said during her McLibel campaign, “Ronald McDonald is one stranger parents certainly should warn their children about - we know he has ulterior motives.” The Department of Health should take note.

捐款支持