CHICAGO -- Fast food giant McDonald's said Wednesday it may eliminate beef tallow from its recipe for french fries but condemned a nationwide newspaper advertisement claiming the chain is 'poisoning' consumers.
'Let's start with the obvious: This ad is reckless, misleading and intended to scare rather than inform,' McDonald's Corp. Senior Vice President Dick Starmann said.
The ad, which appeared Wednesday in the Wall Street Journal and more than a dozen other newspapers, was headlined: 'The poisoning of America!' and carried the label 'Part III.'
The advertisement was placed by an Omaha, Neb., man -- Phil Sokolof -- identified in the ad as president of the 'National Heart Savers Association.'
In ads labeled 'Parts I and II' last year, Sokolof's organization campaigned against the use of lard and tropical oils -- specifically palm and coconut -- in processed foods.
'McDonald's represents the food industry,' Sokolof, founder of and sole contributor to the association, said in a telephone interview. 'McDonald's is the leader and, consequently, when you say McDonald's, you are including Burger King and Wendy's.'
Starmann took issue with the ad's charge that McDonald's hamburgers have a high fat content.
'Our hamburgers, which are the focus of the ad, are leaner and have less fat than the ground beef most people buy in supermarkets,' Starmann said. 'In fact, our ground beef qualified for the (Agriculture Department) standard for 'lean' beef.'
'Obviously, there are fatter hamburger meats in grocery stores,' Sokoloff conceded. 'The qualifications for what constitutes lean meat vary from state to state.'
The fat content of McDonald's hamburgers is about the average for hamburgers sold by major chains, he said.
'Their hamburgers are 22 to 25 percent fat,' he said. 'Fifteen percent is lean. There's more saturated fat consumed in McDonald's restaurants than any other entity in the world. There are millions of grams of saturated fat consumed a day in McDonald's restaurants.
'If McDonald's reduces the fat content of their hamburgers by 10 percent, there will be millions of grams of saturated fat less consumed by the American public.'
Sokolof also objected to the method McDonald's, Burger King and Wendy's use to fry potatoes for french fries, which incorporates a large proportion of beef tallow. He noted that Arby's and Hardees already have switched to vegetable oil.
'I have made a statement to McDonald's to give our kids a break today, remove the beef tallow from your french fries,' Sokolof
Starmann said McDonald's has been experimenting with a new method of frying potatoes using vegetable oil.
'We have to maintain the same great McDonald's taste,' Starmann said. 'We're pretty tough french fry critics. They had to meet those tests. We are testing it in 500 restaurants to see what consumers think of it.'
Starman said he does not expect the ad to have any impact on business at McDonald's restaurants or on the price of the company's stock.
'Our customers are smart people,' Starmann said. 'They know we have a long history of responding to their concerns about nutrition and they are aware of the things we've done. Hopefully, they are not going to be intimidated by the ad.'
Sokolof, 67, who is a manufacturer of metal components for the construction industry, suffered a heart attack 23 years ago and established the National Heart Savers Association five years ago.
He said he has spent $2 million on a campaign to make Americans more aware of cholesterol and the importance of diet in health.