McDonald's Corp. has apologized for not being upfront about its use of beef extract in french fries sold in the United States, an ingredient the company calls "natural flavor" in its nutrition brochures.
The apology comes after American Hindus and vegetarians sued the world's largest restaurant chain this month in Seattle, accusing the company of deliberately misleading its U.S. customers. The plaintiffs said they believed they were eating vegetarian fries because McDonald's has marketed its fries since 1990 as cooked in "100 percent vegetable oil."
The lawsuit has sparked a public relations backlash against McDonald's. Chat rooms on vegetarian Web sites are filled with messages from customers who feel deceived. In India, where the cow is sacred to Hindus, demonstrators smashed restaurant windows and smeared signs with cow dung. McDonald's ran advertisements in Indian newspapers reassuring consumers that it used no animal extracts in fries it sells there.
McDonald's chose not to issue a public statement, instead carrying the apology on an obscure page on its corporate Web site: "Because it is our policy to communicate to customers, we regret if customers felt that the information we provided was not complete enough to meet their needs. If there was confusion, we apologize."