McDonald's fined in Brazil for pushing Happy Meals to children

SAO PAULO Mon Apr 22, 2013 7:25pm EDT

A McDonald's restaurant sign is seen at a McDonald's restaurant in Del Mar, California April 16, 2013. McDonald's Corp will announce its earnings on April 19. REUTERS/Mike Blake

A McDonald's restaurant sign is seen at a McDonald's restaurant in Del Mar, California April 16, 2013. McDonald's Corp will announce its earnings on April 19.

Credit: Reuters/Mike Blake

SAO PAULO (Reuters) - A consumer protection agency in Brazil has taken aim at the Happy Meal, fining McDonald's Corp (MCD.N) on Monday for targeting children with its advertising and toys.

The Procon agency in the state of Sao Paulo fined the fast-food company 3.2 million reais ($1.6 million), adding fuel to a global debate about fast food and public health.

As with the case in Brazil, Latin America's biggest economy, much of the debate centers on how McDonald's and other fast-food companies market to children and other young consumers.

While the initial fine may have little impact on the world's largest restaurant chain, the agency said additional citations for similar advertising could arise, more than doubling the cost to McDonald's. Consumer agencies in other jurisdictions could also soon follow the precedent in Brazil's most populous state.

"This is not an isolated case," said Procon's top lawyer in Sao Paulo, Renan Ferraciolli. "There's no need to appeal as they do to children without the maturity or the rationality to enter the market as consumers."

The fine, announced on Monday, stemmed from a 2010 campaign offering meals with toys from the motion picture Avatar and a local television series, Ferraciolli said. Other marketing activity since then has followed similar patterns, he added, giving the agency grounds to consider additional fines.

A spokeswoman for McDonald's declined to comment on the case. The company can appeal Procon's ruling in court.

The penalty in the fast-growing Brazilian market is the latest in a series of increasingly aggressive tactics by local regulators, who recently have cracked down on big companies for perceived consumer abuses. In recent months, various Brazilian agencies have penalized banks, phone companies and private health plans in the name of consumer protection.

In the United States, pediatricians have urged a ban on advertising unhealthy foods to children, but legal measures have gained little traction. A judge there last year threw out a lawsuit against Happy Meal marketing.

U.S. regulators have urged companies to voluntarily end food advertising to children unless they are promoting healthy fare, but industry groups have fought fiercely against such proposals.

In a nod to concerns from public health advocates, McDonald's in recent years added apples and reduced the amount of french fries in its children's Happy Meals, which continue to include a free toy. The chain also moved to start listing calorie information on menus throughout the United States ahead of a national rule requiring such disclosures.

($1 = 2.02 Brazilian reais)

(Reporting by Brad Haynes; Additional reporting by Lisa Baertlein in Los Angeles; Editing by Bernard Orr)

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Comments (1)
It’s not McD’s fault parents buy their kids this crap. Sorry but as much as I am anti-fast food, we need to stop blaming them for marketing and start being parents. Period. If you don’t like McD’s “pushing” food on your kids, then choose not to feed it to them. Your kid pitching a fit because you said no is no reason to blame McD’s for your lack of ability to discipline. No means no, at least it did in my day. McD’s was made as big as they are BECAUSE of uneducated consumers, now that we know what we know, we can’t just sit here and say “ooohhh well we have to make them pay for targeting our children”. Wrong, you need to stand up and start being parents. McD’s targeting kids for business is the same thing as Lexus targeting adults w/ theirs, but you don’t run out and buy a new LX every time a new one appears on TV, do you? Think about it.

Apr 23, 2013 1:55pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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