McDonald’s Happy Meal Toys to be Banned in San Francisco?
We know that fast food is bad for us. It’s filled with excessive calories, sodium and fat. It’s “meals” are often based largely on meat, which is very damaging to the environment as well as our health.
Yet, we seem to think it’s completely alright to use toys and other kid-oriented incentives to entice children to eat fast food and get them hooked on the habit early. McDonald’s, alone, spends hundreds of millions a year on toy promotions…. And it rakes in $ 40-50 billion a year from kids 12 and under, plus another $ 670 billion on “family” purchases.
Well, apparently some folks in San Francisco have decided that this is completely inappropriate and predatory marketing.
Last week, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors Land Use Committee voted 3-0 in favor of an ordinance (PDF) to limit toy giveaways in children’s meals that have excessive calories, sodium and fat.
“Our children are sick. Rates of obesity in San Francisco are still climbing, and among children of color in particular. Restaurants in San Francisco should be providing healthful food choices for our families,” said ordinance sponsor Supervisor Eric Mar. “This is a challenge to the industry to think about children’s health first.”
If fast food restaurants add more fruit and vegetables and limit the calories, using toys would still be acceptable according to the ordinance – (not something I’m thrilled with anyway, but good if they can at least use this to make the food healthier).
While this ordinance would be for all restaurants, its clear focus is McDonald’s and its famous Happy Meals (which are even popular here in Poland).
The full Board of Supervisors will vote on this ordinance later this month
Apparently, this has really gotten McDonald’s attention. Markie McBrayer of Corporate Accountability International wrote to me:
“This ordinance has struck a deep nerve with the industry – a clear indication of the primacy of predatory marketing to its business model. McDonald’s and the fast food industry have launched an all out PR offensive to influence the political process.
Where McDonald’s usually hides behind its trade association to avoid tarnishing its public image, it has come out from behind the curtain to oppose the policy. It has taken out a full-page ad in the San Francisco Chronicle, flown top executives in for a series of behind closed doors meetings aimed at getting Supervisor Mar to compromise or pull the policy, and threatened a lawsuit if all else fails.”
Of course, not everyone can be pushed around or persuaded by McDonald’s.
“Though McDonald’s and its competitors could spare the health of millions in the years ahead, by losing the mascots, the toys, and other gimmicks that hook kids on unhealthy food for a lifetime, they are instead taking the low road,” said Kelle Louaillier, executive director of Corporate Accountability International. “But the public relations shell game is wearing thin with a public hungry for solutions and fed-up with spin”.
Unfortunately, either these threats from McDonald’s have gotten under Mayor Gavin Newsom’s skin, or the Mayor is just concerned about elections and popularity, because Newsom, a strong health advocate, has stated that he would veto the ordinance if it went through. At that point, the Board of Supervisors could overturn the veto but would need a vote of 8-3.
Regarding Newsom’s history and stance, Trevor Hunnicutt over on Huffington Post wrote:
Mayor Gavin Newsom signed an executive order earlier this year banning sweetened beverages like Coca Cola and Pepsi from vending machines on city property. Local leaders considered but ultimately abandoned laws recently that would have imposed a fee on businesses that sell sugary drinks and alcohol.
Newsom has slowed down in his support of some health measures after he was attacked by his opponent in next month’s lieutenant governor’s race, Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado, for being the “food police.” Newsom vetoed the alcohol and soda fees, and he’s indicated he’ll do the same for Ronald McDonald.
Of course, Newsom’s representative, Tony Winnicker, had a very political response:
“The mayor is always open to argument and evidence about a better way – he’s not ideological, he’s not wedded to one approach. This is not the time to be considering new fees and taxes that would put San Francisco at a disadvantage to other counties around the state.”
We’ll see what comes of this story. The decision is a no-brainer to me, but I’m not a politician.