SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS / AP) — A Northern California mother of two and The Center for Science in the Public Interest sued McDonald’s Corp. Wednesday in state court in San Francisco to get the fast-food chain to stop using toys to market meals to young children.

They claimed McDonald’s is violating several consumer protection laws by marketing its Happy Meals directly to young children because it exploits children’s vulnerability.

KCBS’ Barbara Taylor Reports:

“What kids see as a fun toy, I now realize is a sophisticated, high-tech marketing scheme that’s designed to put McDonald’s between me and my daughters,” said Monet Parham, of Sacramento. “For the sake of other parents and their children, I want McDonald’s to stop interfering with my family.”

Parham’s lawyers have asked that Pelham’s lawsuit be certified as a class action. The lawsuit doesn’t seek damages; it asks the court to bar McDonald’s from advertising any meals that feature toys to California children.

McDonald’s said it is proud of its Happy Meals and intends to vigorously defend its brand, reputation and food.

“We stand on our 30-year track record of providing a fun experience for kids and families at McDonald’s,” the company said in a statement.

McDonald’s, the world’s largest burger chain, is facing scrutiny for including toys with meals. San Francisco recently prohibited them in meals with more than 600 calories or more than 35 percent of their calories from fat.

Santa Clara County, home of Silicon Valley, has a similar ban. But city leaders in Superior, Wisconsin, this month decided against regulating toys in fast-food meals.

The consumer group said it is focusing on McDonald’s because it is the largest fast-food company and spends more money marketing to children than its peers and could serve as a leader if it makes reforms.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest has a track record of getting the food industry to change its practices. Snack and cereal maker Kellogg Co. agreed to a settlement with the center that set nutrition standards for the foods Kellogg could advertise to children. KFC agreed to phase out oils high in trans fats after the center dropped a lawsuit over KFC’s use of partially hydrogenated oils.

Fast-food companies spent over $520 million in 2006 on marketing children’s meals, and toys made up almost three-quarters of those expenses, the group said.

In this case, the center claims McDonald’s is engaged in a “highly sophisticated scheme to use the bait of toys to exploit children’s developmental immaturity and subvert parental authority.”

The toys encourage children to eat nutritionally unbalanced Happy Meals, which in turn promotes obesity, according to the center’s complaint.

“McDonald’s advertising of Happy Meals with toys is deceptive and unfair to children, unfair to parents, and in violation of California law,” the complaint states.

It’s possible to order Happy Meals with healthier elements, such as apples instead of fries or milk instead of soda. But the center found McDonald’s employees usually include the less-healthy options unless a customer specifically requests the healthier foods.

(© 2010 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

Comments (6)
  1. Mad Mike says:

    The woman filing the lawsuit says she wants McDonalds to “stop interfering with my family.” WELL THEN DON’T FREAKING GO INTO ONE!!! Case solved, move on! I tell you what I want Ms Parham, for people like you to quit allowing themselves to be patsies for special interest groups. Maybe I should sue HER…..

  2. amber says:

    I don’t mind the toys in the happy meals BUT I wouldn’t complain if all the fast food chains stopped advertising. Yesterday we were trying to watch a Christmas special on TV and all we heard was “i want that! Will you buy me that? I need that!” I think my son was more interested in the toy and food commercials than the actual Charlie Brown show.

  3. mom198586 says:

    Isn’t it a parent’s job to patrol what their kids eat/don’t eat? Are you going to sue toy stores because your child sees something there that they “just have to have,” and you either can’t afford, think it’s a stupid toy or find it age inappropriate? I think not. The only ones benefiting from this ideology is the lawyers.

  4. tired of it all says:

    This wingnut complains that McDonald’s happy meals are “designed to put McDonald’s between me and my daughters” Yet she seems to have no problem inserting HER NOSY SELF between me and my children and the decisions I make. If my son sees a commercial for something he wants and asks for it, I am not a zombie who immediately fills his wishes – I make the decision – it is called PARENTING. This woman should try it – it does work.

  5. Sue says:

    Is this for real?!?! Has this lady ever heard of saying the word NO?!? My parents said it all the time. I can’t believe the courts are wasting time on this frivilous vexatious case. What a waste of the Judges’ time and taxpayers money. Seems to me like this lady can’t control her kids.

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