Dispute Over McDonald's Lawsuit Settlement Gains Momentum

The dispute over how to spend $6 million McDonald’s agreed to pay to non-profit vegetarian organizations gained steam and national coverage with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals weighing in against a proposed award to a University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill researcher.

Those opposed to the current settlement have petitioned the court to reject the current disbursement plans. For its part, McDonald’s has filed briefs with the court overseeing the settlement that attacks the characterizes the animal rights groups leading the charge against the proposed settlement as “zealous radicals.”

Much of the national media coverage focused on opposition to UNC nutrition researcher Steve Zeisel. Here’s how Jeff Nelson of VegSource.Com sums up the case against Zeisel,

VRG [Vegetarian Resource Group] submitted the only declaration in support of the proposal, even endorsing the money earmarked to go to the anti-vegetarian animal researcher at University of North Carolina — a researcher who seeks to prove his personal hypothesis that the vegan diet is very unsafe for pregnant women who need to eat eggs when pregnant in order to get sufficient choline.

PETA’s Hannah Schein told the Associated Press that,

The money is supposed to be earmarked for vegetarian groups. He doesn’t represent a vegetarian gruop. If anything, he recommends that pregnant women not be vegetarian.

What exactly are Nelson and PETA afraid that Zeisel might find?

Zeisel wants to use the money he would receive to study whether or not pregnant vegetarian women receive enough choline.

Choline is a vitamin-like substance that is crucial in the body’s production of an important nerve messenger chemical. In 1998 the National Academy of Sciences? Institute of Medicine recommended choline be recognized as a crucial human nutrient.

Choline is found mainly in eggs, meat and milk, so it would hardly be surprising to find choline deficiency in pregnant vegetarian and vegan women. You’d think that VegSource.Com and PETA would want such a study (especially since adequate choline can probably be obtained from vegan sources). As Zeisel told the Associated Press,

Pregnancy is a time that women have to be careful about their diet and be sure they are well-balanced. This is not a time to be a careless vegetarian. If we’re going to learn something about the science of this, you need to go to the places that can do the science.

Of course neither PETA nor VegSource.Com have ever been particularly careful about vetting their statements to ensure scientific accuracy. Much better to simply push the ideology and hope nobody notices the man behind the curtain.


McDonald’s Attacks Vegetarian Leaders. Jeff Nelson, VegSource.Com, January 6, 2003.

Grant for UNC researcher riles animal activists. Associated Press, January 10, 2003.

Lawyer hits McD on suit settlement process. Sandra Guy, Chicago Sun-Times, January 10, 2003.