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Judge Delays Dispersal in McDonald’s Case

February 26, 2003

CHICAGO (AP) _ A Cook County judge is delaying the division of a $10 million settlement from McDonald’s over beef-laced french fries until the tax-exempt status of some of the vegetarian recipients is clarified.

Judge Richard Siebel on Tuesday asked attorneys for plaintiffs in the class-action lawsuit to determine the tax-exempt status of some groups and find out whether others affiliated with tax-exempt groups intend to seek the status for themselves. He set a new hearing date to award grants March 25.

Groups whose status is in limbo include the Islamic Food and Nutrition Council of America and the Hindu Student Council.

The settlement was intended to make amends to customers who unwittingly ate the fries cooked in beef-flavored oil during the 1990s, when McDonald’s announced it was using vegetable oil. Lawsuits filed in Illinois, California, New Jersey, Texas and Washington charged the restaurant chain with deceiving people who don’t eat meat for personal or religious reasons.

Some vegetarian groups are protesting some of the proposed awards. Chicago attorney Michael Hyman, representing a group of objectors including Baskin-Robbins heir and EarthSave International founder John Robbins, said he worries about the outcome because Siebel did not ask questions about the groups’ agendas.

``He’s made up his mind, it sounds like,″ Hyman said. He said his clients may appeal the award.

Oak Brook-based McDonald’s agreed to the settlement last year, offering 60 percent to vegetarian groups, 20 percent to Hindu and Sikh groups, 10 percent to children’s nutrition and hunger-relief efforts and 10 percent to promoting understanding of Kosher practices.

In January the animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals asked Siebel to reject a grant to University of North Carolina nutrition researcher Steve Zeisel. His grant would fund the study of whether pregnant vegetarian women get enough of the nutrient choline, which is abundant in eggs.

Zeisel suggested that inadequate choline, also found in beef and dairy products, leads to memory impairment. He said his work could help inform pregnant vegetarians how to take the best care of themselves, but PETA said he was anti-vegetarian.

Hyman said some proposed grants are anti-vegetarian, such as an $800,000 award to Tufts University to study nutrient deficiencies in vegetarians. Others do little to promote vegetarianism because the groups are too small or parochial, he said.

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