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McDonald’s faces allegations over selling children junk food

CEO Don Thompson vehemently denies allegations at annual shareholder meeting.

US-based fast food chain McDonald’s has faced fresh allegations that it is marketing  high-calorie, unhygienic food products to children, minority communities and African-American youth in the US.

Vehemently opposing the allegations levelled against the company at its annual shareholder meeting held yesterday, McDonald’s CEO Don Thompson as quoted by the Financial Times as saying: “We don’t sell junk food. We sell a lot of fruits and veggies at McDonald’s and we are trying to introduce even more.”

The world’s largest restaurant chain has been criticised for producing food products that have been contributing to the rise in obesity levels, especially among children.

The company, which recently launched egg whites in its breakfast menu, has agreed to provide nutritional information on its products in 2012.  McDonald’s also began offering fruit smoothies, salads and including apples in its Happy Meals.

“The epidemic of obesity particularly relevant to my neighbourhood [and similar ones] . . . it’s not about McDonald’s. I still cook ham hocks with my greens at home – I grew up doing that. I’ll continue doing that,” added Thompson.

In its 2010 report, the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at Yale University revealed that even though McDonald’s and Burger King show only healthy sides and beverages in child-targeted advertising, the restaurants automatically serve French fries with kids’ meals at least 86 per cent of the time, and soft drinks at least 55 per cent of the time.

The report also found that African-American children and teens watched fast food ads on television  50 per cent more  than their white counterparts.

People who attended the annual meeting questioned Thompson to stop marketing junk food to children and parents. In response, Thompson was quoted by FT as saying: “We are not the cause of obesity. We are not overtly marketing to children. Ronald [McDonald] is not a bad guy. He’s a clown. He’s about fun . . . so I’d ask you all to let your kids have some fun too.”

Meanwhile, McDonald’s is also planning to re-introduce its Mega Potato product in Japan that is estimated to contain 1,142 calories.

Due to its large scale of operations, McDonald's has become the target for criticism although several other fast food chains too sell foods that are equally heavy with calories.

For the last few years, it has been an uphill task for McDonald’s to move away from its junk food reputation.