SANTIAGO, Chile – McDonald's, Burger King, KFC and other fast-food companies are being accused in Chile of violating the country's new law against including toys with children's meals.
These and other companies are knowingly endangering the health of children by marketing kids' meals with toys more than a month after the law took effect on June 7, Sen. Giudo Gerardi said as he filed a formal complaint Wednesday seeking a health ministry investigation.
Gerardi said he's also targeting the makers of cereal, popsicles and other products that are sold with toys, crayons or stickers as a way to attract children, as well as the markets where these foods are sold.
If Chile's health ministry upholds his allegations, the companies could be forced to remove the products or face nominal fines.
"These businesses know that these foods damage the health of children and they know the law is in effect. They're using fraudulent and abusive methods. Burger King puts toys in its 'happy meals' and this is illegal; so is the unhappy little box of McDonald's," Gerardi said.
The Associated Press left messages seeking reaction with spokesmen for McDonald's Corp., Burger King Worldwide Inc. and KFC's owner, Yum Brands Inc.
The Washington-based Center for Science in the Public Interest sued McDonalds over using toys to market its food to children in 2010, but the claim was dismissed in April. San Francisco banned restaurants last year from providing toys along with meals high in fat, salt, and sugar, but McDonalds has continued providing toys there by charging consumers a small fee for the goodies. A similar measure was defeated in New York.
The experience of both U.S. cities helped Gerardi craft his "junk food law," his spokeswoman, Carol Bortnick, said.
Gerardi said he wrote the law because nearly a quarter of Chile's 6-year-olds suffer from childhood obesity.
Sara Deon, an activist with Corporate Accountability International, campaigned for the measures in San Francisco and New York, and praised Chile for passing its law. But she said "Chilean public servants should have no illusions" about implementing it.
"Judging from McDonald's response to similar health laws in the U.S. we'd expect the corporation to respond as it long has: it will fight tooth and nail to continue marketing to children," she said. "It will take every opportunity to blame parents for today's health epidemic. Marketing to kids is core to McDonald's brand and to its bottom line."