McDonald’s faces suit in US over toys

A US consumer group yesterday sued McDonald’s to stop the world’s largest hamburger chain from using Happy Meal toys to lure children into its restaurants.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest is representing a Sacramento mother of two in the lawsuit, which alleges unfair marketing and other violations of California’s consumer protection law. It does not seek monetary damages.

“The lawsuit is about the change, not the money,” CSPI litigation director Stephen Gardner said.

“We are proud of our Happy Meals and intend to vigorously defend our brand, our reputation and our food,” said McDonald’s spokeswoman Bridget Coffing. “We listen to our customers, and parents consistently tell us they approve of our Happy Meals.”

Walter Olson, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and tort reform advocate, said he thinks that McDonald's will ultimately prevail but that it will likely have to go through multiple rounds of legal wrangling, which would suit CSPI.

“In the meantime, they’ve got their step towards a national debate, which is what they want,” Olson said.

McDonald’s debuted the Happy Meal in the United States in 1979. Modern offerings have included themed items from popular films like “Shrek” or sought-after toys like Ty Beanie Babies.

The Happy Meal has been a huge hit for McDonald’s –- making the company one of the world’s largest toy distributors – and spawning me-too offerings at most other fast-food chains.

But lately it also has come under fire from public health officials, parents and lawmakers who are frustrated by rising childhood obesity.