Liberal Group Threatens Lawsuit Against McDonald's If It Doesn't Stop Giving Toys to Children

By Nicholas Ballasy | June 22, 2010 | 8:15 PM EDT

( -- The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), a liberal consumer advocacy organization, has announced it will sue McDonald’s unless the fast-food franchise stops using toys to market its “Happy Meals” to children.
“This morning, CSPI notified McDonald’s that we will file a lawsuit against the company unless it stops using toys to beguile young children,” said Executive Director Michael F. Jacobson, Ph.D., at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday.
“We contend that tempting kids with toys is unfair and deceptive both to kids who don’t understand the concept of advertising and to their parents who have to put up with their nagging children,” he said. asked attorney Stephen Gardner, the director of litigation at CSPI who wrote the letter to McDonald’s threatening the lawsuit, why his group is not targeting Wendy’s, Burger King and others.

"I learned a long time ago as a consumer advocate that the way to affect behavior is to go after the market leader, not the leader edge if possible, and certainly not the trailing edge or the small outfit,” said Gardner.
“McDonald’s is as Mike [Jacobson] said, the ‘Big Kahuna’--it’s the bully on the playground here,” said Gardner. “So, we go after the big guys.”
When asked if parents should be able to choose what to allow their children to eat, Garder said McDonald’s as a corporation has their own responsibility.
“There is a matter of corporate responsibility as well as personal responsibility,” he said. “Parents have a responsibility. This is an instance where this corporation has decided to try to go around the parents and market straight to the kids to bribe the kids to come.”
“They’re deliberately trying to supplant parental authority and parental responsibility by turning these kids into little screaming viral marketers sitting in the backseat demanding to go to McDonald’s to get some cheap piece of plastic,” Gardner said.
Gardner also criticized the Bush administration.
“Marketers of all kinds in this country, one, were lulled into a sense of true security under the prior administration when the federal agencies did absolutely nothing to protect consumers,” said Gardner.
”The Bush administration almost encouraged companies to engage in deceptive practices and did aid and abet them in doing so,” he said. “So, they have complacency, and it’s just built to a point where now is the time.”
William Whitman, vice president of communications for McDonald's USA, said in a statement that CSPI was misrepresenting the company's practices.
"McDonald’s is committed to a responsible approach to our menu, and our Happy Meal offerings,” said the statement. “We have added more choice and variety than ever before, a fact that has been widely reported and recognized.” 
The statement continued: “We couldn’t disagree more with the misrepresentation of our food and marketing practices made by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). Since 2006, we have been a part of the Council for Better Business Bureau's voluntary initiative to address the importance of children’s well-being. In the U.S., McDonald's primarily advertises the four-piece Chicken McNuggets Happy Meal, which includes Apple Dippers, low-fat caramel dip and one percent low-fat white milk.”
The statement also said, “We are proud of our Happy Meal which gives our customers wholesome food and toys of the highest quality and safety. Getting a toy is just one part of a fun, family experience at McDonald's.”