Burger giant McDonald’s is hoping to win over health-conscious and environmentally aware customers by selling semi-skimmed organic milk in its UK restaurants.

From February, the company will only sell organic milk, in 250ml bottles carrying the certification logo of the Soil Association. The group expects to have sold more than 5.6 million bottles by the end of 2003, and could also extend its organic offering to include desserts.

Suffering from consumer antipathy following the BSE crisis, as well as a trend towards fresh sandwiches, McDonald’s last month reported the first losses since it was founded 47 years ago. Some 175 restaurants will close, at least six of which are in London.

The change in milk supplies is not the first time McDonald’s has shown an interest in organic agriculture. The company has sponsored a £300,000 (US$481,300) research programme at Oxford University to look into ways of breaching the gulf between organic farming and conventional agriculture.

The move has not met with universal approval. The Independent On Sunday quotes Soil Association director Patrick Holden, as saying: “Many of us have profound concerns about the fastfood giants and the way they’ve compromised the nutritional integrity of the foods they sell […] If McDonald’s … wants to restore their tarnished image, they will have to go further than that. Only when their core products come from certified organic farms will we be tempted back into these shops.”