McDonald’s, Burger King Beat San Francisco’s Ban on Toy Giveaways

How do you discourage kids from getting fast-food meals loaded with salt, sugar and fat? San Francisco thought it had a solution: Prohibit restaurants from including free toys with unhealthy meals.

But the ban, which went into effect today, already has been beaten. As the San Francisco Chronicle reports, first McDonald’s, and then Burger King, decided to charge an extra dime for the toys so that they couldn’t be considered illegal free giveaways.

McDonald’s, whose “Happy Meals” were a target of the law, said the proceeds from the extra dimes will support Ronald McDonald House of San Francisco, part of the national nonprofit group. Burger King didn’t have an immediate answer on how its toy proceeds will be used.

McDonald’s said, as The New York Times reports, that the toys are an important part of the appeal of Happy Meals.  “While we will fully comply with this law, we also have a responsibility to give our customers what they want,” the company said in a statement. “Parents have told us they’d still like the option of purchasing a toy separately for their child when they buy them a Happy Meal.”

Although McDonald’s has taken steps to improve the nutritional quality of its Happy Meals, they still don’t meet the requirements of San Francisco’s law, the first such initiative by a major U.S. city.

SF Weekly, which broke the story about McDonald’s maneuver to beat the ban, said the chain’s restaurants in the city had allowed parents to buy the toys without getting Happy Meals for $2.18, but now that program is over. A company spokeswoman told the Times, however, she had no knowledge of the program.

The law, which was approved after San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors overrode a mayoral veto last fall, had plenty of critics. A Chronicle editorial called it “a classic example of regulation run amok,” and added, “It’s nice to see one of City Hall’s overreaching attempts at social engineering resolved without a lawsuit, federal intervention or threat of a tourist boycott.”

But Harold Goldstein, executive director of the California Center for Public Health Advocacy, complained that McDonald’s maneuver allowed the company to “gut this health ordinance,” and to “continue to seduce children to eat junk food.” He added: “In the battle over children’s health, consider this a win for obesity and diabetes.”

STUART SILVERSTEIN

Related Posts:
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San Francisco Proposes Less Happy ‘Happy Meals’ to Encourage Healthier Fare

 

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