US fast food giant McDonalds has announced a settlement in a lawsuit brought by a group which said it had failed to tell consumers of a delay in a move to cut trans fats.

"'McDonald's has reached an agreement to further notify our customers about the status of our ongoing initiative to reduce TFAs (trans fatty acids) in our cooking oil," McDonalds said in a statement.

"McDonald's will also make a US$7 million donation to the American Heart Association, a leading organization dedicated to the health and well being of Americans to help with their educational efforts," it said.

The company continued to work hard to reduce trans fats in cooking oil and had already successfully cut levels in Chicken McNuggets, Crispy Chicken Sandwich and McChicken Sandwich. Information on trans fats was available on McDonalds' website and on in restaurants.

The case was brought by BanTransFats.com. "McDonald's announced in September 2002 that it was voluntarily changing to a cooking oil with less trans fat and that the change would be completed by February 2003," Stephen L Joseph, its founder and president, said. "However, McDonald's encountered operational issues and the oil was not changed. Plaintiffs claimed in the lawsuits that McDonald's did not take sufficient steps to inform the public that it had not changed the oil."

"McDonald's deserves recognition and credit for having achieved a reduction in the trans fat levels in its chicken products and for working diligently over the last two years to test additional cooking oils" he said. "Hopefully, McDonald's will be successful soon in replacing its cooking oil with a trans fat-free alternative."

The Center for Science in the Public Interest welcomed the settlement. "The excellent legal settlement reached between McDonald's and BanTransFats.com and in the class action on the same matter is a perfect example of how litigation can motivate food companies to change their practices for the better," said executive director Michael F. Jacobson. "The programs that the American Heart Association will be able to sponsor should accelerate the food industry's movement from partially hydrogenated oils to more healthful natural oils."