OAK BROOK, IL - McDonald's executives today confirmed that sales of the company's new Chicken Selects chicken breast strips are down following their being banned by several major US corporations. The bans have been sparked by several instances of violence when colleagues have attempted to steal (or even been suspected of thinking about stealing) these moist and tasty treats.
The case of Peter Tupelo provides a cautionary tale. Tupelo, 23, graduated from the University of Boulder in May, 2004. After taking the summer off to travel with friends, he joined Adler Accounting, a 75 person accounting firm in Denver, as an administrative assistant. On only his third day at Adler, Tupelo, eating Chicken Selects while photocopying several documents, became strangely paranoid.
Margaret Bodecker, the company's director of human resources, explains what happened next. "I heard a commotion," explained Bodecker, "and then several people came running past my office. One of them, Steve [Grassley], I believe, shouted ‘the new kid is going nuts, get out of here'.
"Being the director of HR, I couldn't just turn my back on an employee with a problem, so I ran to where the noise was coming from - it was not a pretty scene."
When Ms. Bodecker arrived in the production room where Peter had been working, she found Peter squatting on the floor, rocking on his feet with his hands around his knees, sobbing. Not far from Peter lay the body of Ricky Pastore - sans head - another recently hired college graduate.
"Peter saw me right away and I will tell you I was frightened for my safety," continued Bodecker. "But he looked up at me with eyes just full of tears and I knew he wasn't going to do anything bad, so I shouted down the hall that someone needed to call 911 and I went to Peter. All he could say was something about the delicious zone. It made no sense to me."
To Brock Greenway, it made only too much sense. Greenway, a special agent in the FBI's Denver field office, is a forensic food investigator. He is responsible for investigating food-related crimes and has seen this situation repeatedly. "McDonald's needs to understand that serving Chicken Selects is like handing a person a loaded gun. They are so damn tasty that they have driven at least 14 people to the type of violence that occurred in the Tupelo case.
"I think that the company needs to consider pulling these products off the menu. At the very least, they need to turn down the deliciousness by several notches. Until they step up and take responsibility for their menu, employers, parents, schools and concerned citizens everywhere have little choice but to ‘ban the bird'."
Mike Roberts, CEO of McDonald's USA tried to put a good face on the situation at a hastily arranged press conference at the company's Oak Brook headquarters. "We knew we had something good," he said during his opening remarks, "but we never imagined that what we had would be so good that people would be willing to kill for them. Because this was an unforeseeable consequence of the introduction of the Chicken Select product, our corporate counsel has determined that McDonald's Corporation bears no liability in any of the cases currently assumed to be related to Chicken Selects.
"However, because McDonald's plays such a key role in the communities it serves and is an iconic American brand, we will be modifying the hormone load and levels in Chicken Selects. We believe that by drastically reducing the amount of testosterone currently used to maximize chicken size, we will see a far lower dose reaching the end consumer of products made from these chickens. While the scientific jury is still out on the effects of agricultural hormones on human development and behavior, we think this is an important step to address the perception of a connection between Chicken Selects and workplace violence."
While experts agree that this may have a positive impact over time, they pointed out that McDonald's currently has a three-year inventory of frozen Chicken Select strips in its restaurants and distribution centers across the country. Ralph Nader, a long-time consumer safety advocate and current presidential candidate offered these observations, "McDonald's has been pumping poison into America's guts for too long - and now the problem has come home to roost. Join me in combating this fowl scourge as part of my ‘Don't Choke for Chicken' campaign at www.dontchoke.com."
Business leaders were equally unswayed by Mr. Robert's comments. In an open letter to Roberts which will appear in tomorrow's Wall Street Journal, fifty CEOs - including Sandy Weill of Citigroup, Betsy Holden of Kraft Foods North America, Harvey Golub of American Express and Carly Fiorina of HP - have reaffirmed their plans to prevent employees from consuming Chicken Selects in the workplace.
"We all know Mike," said Fiorina, "and we all know that he wants to do the right thing for his customers, employees and shareholders. But as business leaders ourselves, we need to make sure we are doing the right thing too - and keeping this fox out of the henhouse is the right thing to do."
For the family of Peter Tupelo, and others like him, this move is a day late. His tearful mother Joyce, reached for comment by telephone at her Boulder home, was still in shock following her son's arrest for murder. "Pete is a great kid, but now, no matter what happens, he's going to bear the stigma of a murderer for the rest of his life, and that poor Pastore boy." At this point Ms. Tupelo hung up her line.
McDonald's spokesperson Vincent Ricci did inform that press that anyone impacted by the violence should contact McDonald's immediately and that they would receive a compensatory package that includes $150,000 in McDonald's gift certificates. "We feel it is the least we can do," explained a solemn Ricci, "our hearts go out to these people."