McDonald's Corp chief executive Jim Skinner blasted fast food critics on Thursday, saying that "fiction has somehow become more compelling than fact."
Skinner said that consumer trust has become a critical issue for large corporations which have been attacked by "cottage industries that exist solely to profit from criticizing the establishment."
"Fictitious information irresponsibly published in the media has people questioning the quality and safety of fast food," he said at the fast food chain's annual shareholder meeting.
McDonald's was slow to react to the 2004 documentary Super Size Me, which showed in gruesome detail how a McDonald's-only diet can lead to rapid weight gain and lethargy.
Skinner's comments came just days after the Cannes Film Festival debut of a fictionalized version of Eric Schlosser's best-selling book examining how fast food restaurants altered the urban landscape, widened the gap between rich and poor, fueled an epidemic of obesity and propelled images of US imperialism.
While Skinner did not address the health impact of a McDonald's menu, he did show shareholders a video touting the company's leadership in developing quality standards at suppliers and in restaurants.
He also blasted the stereotype of the "McJob" which he called "a stereotype for dead-end, low paying jobs."
Skinner said that 20 of the company's top 50 executives got their start working in the restaurants.
"We taking pride in providing opportunity for our people," he said. "This has always been true as our founder Ray Kroc believed that if you take good care of those who work for you, you'll float to greatness on their achievements."
Skinner then showed shareholders a video of the company's new global recognition program in which employees from across the globe competed in a signing competition with a grand prize of US$10,000 and a trip to watch the popular American Idol television show. The finalists from Brazil, Tahiti and Canada will also be featured in local advertising campaigns, he said.
Skinner faced some critics in the shareholder question-and-answer period. A representative from the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) asked the company to explain why it has not yet implemented humane-slaughter requirements for chickens.
Chickens slaughtered in the US are not protected by the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act.
Current methods for stunning the chickens often leave the birds alert while their throats are being slit and their feathers are scalded off.
Skinner thanked the PETA representative for acknowledging that McDonald's is a leader in the industry on animal welfare issues and said the company was continuing to study the issue.