Originally created 06/16/04

McDonald's in Australia bites back at hit documentary



SYDNEY, Australia -- McDonald's took its beef with a documentary maker who criticizes the fast food giant to Australian television screens Tuesday in a nationwide campaign biting back at suggestions its food is unhealthy.

In "Super Size Me," New York documentary maker Morgan Spurlock eats only McDonald's fare for 30 days, and in the end piles on 25 pounds and gets sick.

The film grossed the highest ever opening weekend takings for a documentary in Australia, taking $242,600 in four days on 26 screens. The previous record holder was Michael Moore's "Bowling for Columbine."

McDonald's Australian arm - which already has nutritional information printed on all its food packaging and sells a range of salads at its network of stores - hit back quickly.

"We did some research with our customers, and because of the fact that we were silent in regards to the film, they took it that our silence basically meant guilt," Guy Russo, McDonald's chief executive in Australia, told Sky News television Tuesday. "I think he's providing false claims to Australians ... I won't take that sitting down."

In its new campaign, McDonald's attacks Spurlock's film as being "about someone who decides to overeat."

Russo appears in the ads himself, targeting Spurlock's claim that eating nothing by McDonald's for 30 days can make you sick.

"You're right," Russo says in the commercial. "Surprise, surprise. He finds out it was an error. I could have told him that."

McDonald's has revamped its junk food image around the world, launching healthy alternatives to the burger meals that have made it a restaurant icon. It added lowfat milk, apple juice and sliced fresh apples to its menus in the United States. It also introduced Happy Meal options like Fish McDippers in Japan and sliced fruit in the United Kingdom.

In Australia, Macca's, as it is commonly known, introduced salads and yoghurts and muffins about 18 months ago. It is also one of a few national food companies that lists nutritional contents of each meal on food wrappers and on posters in the restaurants.

Russo said he eats at McDonald's about three times a week, but he would never overdo it, like he insists Spurlock did for his film.

"I'm of Italian descent," Russo says, "and I couldn't eat spaghetti Bolognese every day."