The Guardian March 26, 2003


Reinventing McDonald's

by Marcus Browning*

In August last year the World Food Program launched an international appeal 
to feed millions of starving people in Southern Africa. More than 10 
million people were at risk of starvation across six countries. At the time 
an estimated seven million people required food immediately with that 
number to reach 12.8 million by March this year. Meanwhile, in Norway, 
McDonald's fast food chain was launching its latest marketing innovation, 
the "McAfrika" sandwich: beef, cheese, tomato and salad on pita bread, 
"based on an authentic African recipe".

McDonald's is attempting to reinvent itself to climb out of a slump that 
threatens its very existence. Competition in the form of home-grown fast 
food outlets selling variations of national cuisines plus ongoing 
opposition in some countries to its food imperialism are helping to deepen 
this slump.

To push its interests, McDonalds has become a partner in UNICEF and the 
United Nations Children's Fund that launched the annual World Children's 
Day at McDonald's last year. This is also part of the attempt of US 
corporations to corporatise the United Nations and turn it into a business 
enterprise.

They are in this new venture with the likes of Microsoft's Bill Gates, the 
Credit Suisse Group of Switzerland, the Conrad Hilton Foundation, Cisco 
Systems and Procter and Gamble.

These and other corporations have been in discussions with the UN with the 
aim of setting up Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs), to make private 
profit at public expense.

UNICEF and McDonald's already have a PPP in the form of the marketing 
exercise World Children's Day At McDonald's.

As part of this exercise, on Halloween in the US last year 20 million 
UNICEF trick-or-treat boxes were distributed through McDonald's.

Major promotional events were staged in Asia. In China access to concerts 
broadcast over the internet came via the purchase of a Big Mac burger, with 
a tiny percentage of sales being hived off to UNICEF. In Hong Kong 
McDonald' s put on a "Love for our future with UNICEF" promotion, with 
money going to UNICEF through the sale of postcards at Hong Kong McDonald's 
outlets.

In terms of children's programs, representatives from governments, NGOs, 
the UN and corporations last year began a "dialogue" to "discuss the role 
of such partnerships in achieving A World Fit For Children".

In May 2002, these groups adopted a statement in which "business leaders 
agreed in principal to work to widen the participation of corporate support 
to children; to recognise business responsibilities to children and the 
social and environmental impacts business operations can have on children; 
ensure no corporate exploitation of children; and to promote a fair market 
place that builds healthy communities."

Nice principles but what is the reality?

In a letter sent to UNICEF executive director Carol Bellamy, children's 
rights activists, health experts, doctors and public health advocates 
attacked the fast food giant's involvement in UN children's programs.

"McDonald's is a global leader in the marketing of junk food that is 
creating soaring rates of childhood obesity and type 2 diabetes", said the 
letter, "and that is disrupting traditional ways of food preparation in 
families and cultures.

"It is truly a challenge to see how this partnership with McDonald's is 
consistent with UNICEF's claim to promote 'good nutrition' to the world's 
children. As you know, McDonald's markets precisely the high-added-fat, 
high-added-sugar junk food that undermines good nutrition for the world's 
children."

Though the move into China is a grab for the world's biggest market, the 
McDonald's/UNICEF World's Children's Day is a global PR exercise marked 
down for Denmark, Australia, New Zealand, USA, France, Mexico, Japan and 
Brazil.

Public relations and advertising have been fundamental to the growth of 
McDonalds. Its image is everything because its content is worse than 
nothing. So it was that Britain's Food Commission condemned network GMTV's 
recent sponsorship deal with McDonalds for its Diggit cartoon spot.

Adverts show three-to-eight-year-olds (the program's target audience) 
eating a McDonald's birthday party meal which includes cheeseburger, 
French-fries, Coke and cake.

Based on the recommended daily intake (RDI) for the target age group, this 
meal contains 60 per cent more saturated fat; 79 per cent more sugar and 
128 per cent more salt than the RDI.

The "caring" McDonald's clearly has an unspoken motto: get them early and 
they're yours for life.

Growth of a food monopoly

McDonald's attempt to reinvention itself is not only driven by the need to 
rescue its image but, like all transnational corporations, it has an 
insatiable hunger for profits.

Late last year McDonald's share price was the lowest in seven years. In 
December it admitted that, due to a protracted fall in sales, it would be 
forced to announce, for the fist time in its 47-year history, a quarterly 
loss.

The slump is the result of many waking up to the reality of McDonald's as a 
major global food monopoly. It is also being hit by the growth of rival 
monopolies and the general economic crisis of capitalism.

As a statement from its headquarters in the US state of Illinois coyly put 
it, "It's fair to say that McDonald's is playing to win in a competitive 
marketplace, and is taking necessary actions to move the business forward."

Like other global agri-business monopolies, McDonald's cleaned up on the 
bonanza that came out of exploitative agricultural programs that culminated 
in a wholesale corporate take-over of agriculture in the underdeveloped 
nations in the 1970s; the so-called Green Revolution.

Supported by the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation, it involved the 
introduction of supposedly hardy, easy-to-grow strains of grain and crops 
such as maize. The program was promoted as the saviour of the poor and 
hungry (along the lines that GM food is being touted today).

In fact it was used by big agribusiness to ruthlessly appropriate primary 
food production  the precursor of today's drive to force genetically 
modified farming methods on the world. The Green Revolution ushered in 
seed-fertiliser-insecticide dependence and the imposition of cash crop 
farming on an unprecedented scale.

It gave monopolies like Monsanto absolute control over a nation's 
agriculture. This is how it worked. The farmer had to buy seed from 
Monsanto that responded only to Monsanto's fertiliser and raised crops that 
could only be protected from pests by Monsanto's pesticides.

Agricultural diversity  mixed crop farming meant primarily for local 
consumption  was in many cases undermined and replaced with single cash 
crops (an extension of the mono-culture nature of what is today known as 
corporate globalisation).

This gave rise to a classic version of capitalist overproduction, with 
people going hungry while across their farmlands thousands of hectares of 
cash crops ripened in preparation for harvest and export.

Such a frenzied and ruthless grab for the world's agricultural resources 
made ideal pickings for McDonald's, the most blatantly mono-cultural food 
corporation in the world.

In the process it has been responsible for devastating environmental 
destruction. Vast tracts of land were cleared with resulting soil and water 
degradation to allow for cattle growing to satisfy its demand for beef.

Its demand for cash crops such as wheat and potatoes keeps a steel grip on 
farmers by perpetuating their dependence on McDonald's, farmers that 
McDonald's can abandon the instant a cheaper price is on offer elsewhere.

Breaking that grip requires consideration of fundamental questions, 
including the sovereignty of nations and their economic independence from 
the dictates of transnational corporations, and the rights of all human 
beings to basic needs, including food and water.

There are now millions of children in the developed wealthy nations facing 
major health problems due to obesity from bad diets foisted on them by fast 
food pushers. At the same time, tens of millions go hungry and suffer 
malnutrition in the underdeveloped nations.

That such a ludicrous situation can exist is further proof  if any is 
needed  of the utter failure of capitalism  a system based on 
exploitation, lying and theft. It is now striving to dominate everywhere, 
using any means to save it from its final rejection and collapse.

The Death of Ronald or Suddenly Last Summer

He claps his
gloved hands,
face a plaster
cast death mask,
little does
he know it.

"Now boys and girls .
(the target;
squeezing
every red cent
from their
upturned faces,
exposing
their throats to him -
from their
perspective he
is all teeth and
mouth and nostrils).

Then, suddenly
so it seemed 
"We've had enough.
Sloppy nonsense"
And they point
to the dawn of a new day
grinding
their teeth, saying
in unison
"no more, no more".

They turn on him
with rage in them
rising
all those years of abuse,
aware of themselves at
last.

Alarmed, Ronald retreats
collapses
in on himself
and
at the edge
of a sea of
cattle bones,
on the shore of
a treeless
dustbowl,
beneath a bald mountain,
he expires,
is buried,
stiff as a board
as he always was.

They wash their hands
of him,
his flame-red
juice
slooshed away.
"And they'd better not
send any more of 'em"

*Tom Pearson

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