Jeff Nelson Attacks McDonald's Lawsuit Settlement

This summer McDonald’s decided to settle a class action lawsuit brought against it by vegetarians upset that the fast food chain had claimed its french fries were free of animal products when, in fact, the flavoring added to the fries used a small amount of a beef byproduct.

The lawsuit was started by Seattle attorney Harish Bharti, but when the settlement was announced Bharti complained loudly about how it was being developed. Although the judge order the plaintiffs attorneys to work with McDonald’s to craft a settlement proposal that the court could consider, Bharti complained that the other plaintiff’s lawyers were working on just such a settlement. Bharti was angry that groups he wanted to receive settlement money were excluded from the settlement.

Now Jeff Nelson is attacking the proposed settlements on similar grounds and going after the Vegetarian Resource Group and the North American Vegetarian Society charging them with “sleeping with the enemy” because both groups are likely to receive substantial sums as a result of the settlement (VegSource itself is ineligible since it is not a nonprofit).

Nelson writes,

What most vegetarians don’t know is that the settlement is more offensive than McDonald’s original deception of its vegetarian customers — because McDonald’s is attempting to steer millions of dollars of the settlement monies to animal researchers and anti-vegetarian organizations by simply calling them “vegetarian organizations.”

. . .

Most vegetarians are also unaware that a few vegetarian organizations like the Vegetarian Resource Group (VRG) and the North American Vegetarian Society (NAVS) have acted out of such extreme self-interest that they are aiding and abetting the attorneys who are perpetrating this outrage. Why would they do that? Because these few organizations — with McDonald’s blessing — stand to receive millions of dollars from McDonald’s themselves. They are upset that anyone is now rocking the boat and might endanger their hopes to become enriched.

Nelson’s anger comes on the heels of the attorneys in the case releasing a proposed list of the groups who will receive the $10 million. The breakdown for the $6 million earmarked for vegetarian groups looks like this,


Proposed Award

Vegetarian Resource Group
North American Vegetarian Society
Tufts University
Preventative Medicine Research Institute
American Dietetic Association Foundation
The American Vegan Society
Sound Vision Foundation
UNC, Chapel Hill, Dept. of Nutrition
Vegetarian Vision, Inc.
Loma Linda University
Muslim Consumer Group for Food Products

Nelson’s wrath is directed squarely at NAVS. According to Nelson, the settlement agreement required an announcement to be placed in NAVS’ magazine, Vegetarian Voice, announcing the settlement and explaining how vegetarian groups could apply to receive settlement money. According to Nelson, NAVS director Brian Graff admitted that the announcement had never been placed in Vegetarian Voice due to “deadline problems.” Nelson writes,

As already noted, Brian Graff of NAVS kept to himself the information about how to apply for monies. This is more than unethical; it dishonestly takes advantage of privileged — “insider” — information. He had a responsibility to the class of plaintiffs to share this information, but his failure to disseminate it widely made it very difficult, if not impossible, for many vegetarian organizations to apply. McDonald’s now proposes to reward this behavior by giving him $1 million.

Oddly enough, Nelson then follows that up by trying to claiming that “NAVS is an organization with a very small membership that represents a miniscule proportion of the nation’s vegetarians. In addition to a magazine of limited circulation that is published irregularly . . . ” which seems to undercut his claims of how essential an ad in Vegetarian Voice was.

Nelson is also unhappy that both NAVS and the Vegan Resource Group will substantially benefit from the settlement even though both groups were opposed to the filing of the lawsuit in the first place. He accuses VRG of being in bed with McDonald’s,

It also has a close relationship with McDonald’s, promoting their products, and VRG has the same public stance on “natural flavors” for which McDonald’s was sued — namely, erring on the side of declaring products “vegetarian” when they know that “natural flavors” might mean they contain animal products. . .

In their magazine, VRG also disparaged the lawsuit and people who sue fast food chains, asserting in their editorial that such lawsuits do harm to the vegetarian cause. Additionally, VRG aided McDonald’s in 1997 after McDonald’s informed them the fries had beef product in them, and VRG did not inform the public for several months.

The rest of Nelson’s complaints largely boil down to Nelson disliking a particular group and so arguing it shouldn’t receive any funding. For example, Loma Linda University is slated to receive $250,000 which it plans to use to expand circulation of its Vegetarian Nutrition and Health newsletter as well a develop a web site with vegetarian nutrition information. Nelson complains,

Just how Loma Linda plans to “expand circulation” of a newsletter using $250,000 is not stated. But this lawsuit was not filed so that some university could reap a windfall for a newsletter which they already charged people to subscribe to.

Nelson is also unhappy that Tufts University is slated to receive $800,000. Tufts Nutrition Department evaluates nutrition information and criticizes individuals and groups it finds wanting. Nelson, therefore, accuses them of being anti-vegetarian because they’ve pointed out some of the more nutty claims of John McDougall.

Nelson also doesn’t want to see The University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, receive $250,000 for a study of pregnant vegan women. Nelson thinks UNC professor Stephen Zeisel doesn’t know what he’s talking about, and he’s got proof — animal research contradicts Zeisel. Nelson writes (emphasis added),

Zeisel has been quoted in multiple publications stating he believes that vegan women should go off the vegan diet when pregnant, and eat eggs, drink milk and perhaps eat beef liver. Those are foods rich in choline, and Zeisel knows from his lab experiments that when you remove chlorine from the diet of rats, the rats produce babies with birth defects.

That’s right folks, even Jeff Nelson now apparently recognizes the importance of animal research in evaluating the dietary requirements of human beings.

Finally, Nelson complains that the three Muslim groups included — the Muslim Consumer Group for Food Products, IFANCA, and Sound Vision Foundation — are not really vegetarian since they include information about the humane slaughter of animals (halal). But earlier in his essay Nelson claims there are 16 million vegetarians in the United States. The only way there are 16 million vegetarians is if you include those “vegetarians” who tell pollsters that they occasionally eat meat. Here Nelson is trying to have his tofu and eat it to, using one definition of vegetarian when it suits his purposes and another definition when it doesn’t (shocking coming from Nelson — not!)


Sleeping with the enemy. Jeff Nelson, VegSource.Com, December 11, 2002.

Fight Over Distribution of $10 Million McDonald's Settlement

Back in June, McDonald’s formally settled five class action lawsuits brought on behalf of vegetarians who complained they were deceived into believing that McDonald’s french fries contained no animal products (see McDonald’s agreed to pay $12.5 million to vegetarian groups. Now, however, those groups are fighting amongst themselves over who will get to divided $10 million of that (the other $2.5 million, of course, goes to the lawyers).

The major instigator is once again Seattle attorney Harish Bharti, who filed the first lawsuit against McDonald’s but who has also generally alienated the attorneys involved with class-action lawsuits. Bharti, who reportedly likes to cite his training with Indian Swamis in his legal briefs, now maintains that “this whole settlement is a sham” noting that the four other attorneys are “joining hands with McDonald’s” on a settlement proposal that will be considered by a judge at the end of August.

Of course, as Los Angeles Attorney Kevin Roddy — who negotiated the settlement with McDonald’s — points out, the settlement agreement itself requires that McDonald’s and the suing parties work together to come up with a settlement proposal for the judge, which is pretty standard operating procedure when settling a class action lawsuit.

Bharti’s objections, as well as others, center around which groups will and will not receive money under the proposed settlement. Bharti is angered that groups he had been pushing, including a yoga meditation center and a cow sanctuary would not receive any money. Neither would People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals or Vegan Outreach.

Chicago-based attorney James Latturner told the Seattle Times that, in fact, animal rights groups were excluded early on from the settlement because they represent only “a small subset of groups which advance vegetarianism.”

Muslim groups around the country are also petitioning to be added to the settlement.


Latest beef over fries — who gets money. Lynn Thompson, Seattle Times, August 4, 2002.

Groups ask for share of McDonald’s settlements. Associated Press, August 7, 2002.

Lawyer Who Cowed McDonald's Goes After Pizza Hut

Fresh from winning a settlement with McDonald’s over whether or not its french fries were vegetarian or not, Seattle attorney Harish Bharti is now looking to target Pizza Hut’s Veggie Lover’s pizza.

Bharti’s proposed lawsuit claims that Pizza Hut “intentionally market their pizza to the vegetarian community, knowing full well that the foods are not vegetarian.”

As with the lawsuit against McDonald’s, Bharti’s suit is weak but Pizza Hut might choose to settle, like McDonald’s did, for the public relations value of doing so. The problem is that the word “vegetarian” has a very loose meaning which Bharti himself illustrates when criticizing Pizza Hut. According to Bharti,

While they claim it’s a vegetarian product, they have a beef product in their cheese.

Cheese? The last time I checked, that was also an animal product.

As with the McDonald’s case, if there is any beef byproduct in the pizzas (and Pizza Hut claims there is not), it is used as a flavoring in the pizza sauce. Given that, for Bharti, vegetarians include people who eat animal products such as cheese, I don’t think Pizza Hut would face much of a challenge demonstrating that products which contain small amounts of beef byproducts for flavoring could nonetheless be described as vegetarian, and that consumers interested in products without any animal byproducts should be looking for those labeled as vegan.


Lawsuit claims ‘Veggie Lover’s’ pizza contains a ‘beef product’. Sam Skolnik
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, May 2, 2002.

McDonald's Rumored to Be Considering Settlement of Vegetarian Lawsuits

Last summer it came out that McDonald’s used a beef flavoring in its french fries despite billing them as being vegetarian. Shortly after that revelation, Seattle-based attorney Harish Bharti began soliciting clients for a class action lawsuit against McDonald’s. This week Reuters and other news outlets reported that McDonald’s appears close to settling those lawsuits.

Based on confidential documents the news agencies claim they obtained, McDonald’s is offering to pay for public apologies in religious and vegetarian magazines, give $4,000 each to 12 plaintiffs who have filed 12 separate lawsuits against the company, and donate $10 million to vegetarian and religious organizations. It will also supposedly offer to set up an advisory board to aid it in matters related to vegetarians.

This is odd considering the weak position of the plaintiffs. After all, McDonald’s never claimed the fries were vegetarian or vegan. Instead, in 1990 it announced that it was switching to cooking the fires in “100 percent vegetable oil.” This change was made to placate customer concerns about cholesterol, but to my knowledge McDonald’snever claimed that there no animal products or derivatives in its fries.


McDonald’s makes beef-tainted fries payout. Vivian Chu, Reuters, March 7, 2002.

McDonalds nears settling vegetarians’ lawsuits. Ameet Sachdev, Chicago Tribune, March 6, 2002.

How About A Class Action Against HSUS/PETA?

Seattle attorney Harish Bharti is currently busy soliciting clients to bring a class action lawsuit against McDonald’s on behalf of vegetarians. As you may have heard, McDonald’s for years maintained that its french fries were vegetarian, but it turned out they used a beef byproduct as part of the flavoring. A solicitation on an animal rights web site reads,

If you are a vegetarian and have purchased McDonald’s fries within the last 11 years believing them to contain no animal ingredients based on the deceptive media campaign by McDonald’s, you may be eligible to participate in this class-action lawsuit. Please complete, sign and mail your declaration directly to Mr. Bharti.

Hmmm… why should animal rights activists have all the fun? If McDonald’s was being deceptive when it forgot to mention that its “vegetarian” french fries actually contained an infinitesimally small amount o beef extract, that pales in comparison to the snow job that People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and the Humane Society of the United States have been pulling off for the last couple decades.

If McDonald’s had half the temerity that HSUS does, they’d have been touting their Big Mac as vegan!


Class Action Suit Filed Against Deceptive McDonald’s. The Progressive Animal Welfare Society, Press Release, 2001.