The Taco Bell menu encourages consumers to “think outside the bun,” but now a lawsuit alleges that Taco Bell meat makers also think outside federal guidelines. So what’s really in that taco filler recipe: ground beef or something else?
Taco Bell Meat Lawsuit
Ms. Amanda Obney is the figurehead in a class action lawsuit filed against Taco Bell on Jan. 19, 2011. The Beasley Allen Law Firm posts a copy of the complaint. Attorneys allege on her behalf that Taco Bell menu items identified as “seasoned ground beef” or simply “seasoned beef” are actually little more than a “taco meat filling.”
What differentiates the real beef from this type of filling is the lack of bovine flesh and presence of non-meat fillers. Further alleging false advertising, the attorneys advise the court that they believe this matter exceeds a $5 million figure in value.
Also scrutinizing the actual taco filler recipe, ground beef seasonings (so the lawsuit claims) are not actually flavor enhancers but fillers that add volume to the mix. The suit mentions “isolated oat product” as one such example. Other edible (but non-beef) ingredients alleged include “wheat oats, soy lecithin, maltodextrin” and more.
The suit relies heavily on the USDA’s definition of beef as cattle meat. Pointing to 7 C.F.R. paragraph 1260.119, the Taco Bell meat lawsuit states that the filler does not meet the USDA’s definition of ground beef. The latter substance is to specifically not contain “added water, phosphates, binders, or extenders.”
Attorneys explain that it stands to reason that a taco filling not meeting this narrow definition cannot properly be termed ground beef. Yet even if Taco Bell wanted to assert that meat filler and ground beef do not necessarily have to be held to the same standard, there is the problem of the taco filling rule that requires 40 percent of ground beef – a value the lawyers proclaim the Taco Bell meat does not quite reach with its 36 percent.
Taco Bell Issues Brief Response
In a surprisingly short news release, Taco Bell clarifies that it starts its ground beef recipes with “100 percent USDA-inspected beef.” The news release goes on to explain how the company then adds its “proprietary blend of seasonings and spices.” (Neither of these statements is disputed in the lawsuit.)
Going on the offensive, Taco Bell advises that the company plans on taken legal action for false statements and disputable facts.
Taco Bell Meat Suit Fallout
Consumer groups that have had the Taco Bell menu in their crosshairs for a while now jump on the lawsuit’s bandwagon. The Change activism platform features an online petition seeking to compel the public to urge Taco Bell to “stop misleading customers.” Responses have been tepid; thus far only 16 signatures are on record.
Beasley Allen Law Firm: “Amanda Obney vs. Taco Bell Corporation”
Taco Bell: “Statement Regarding Class Action Lawsuit”
Change: “Tell Taco Bell: Stop Misleading Customers and Accurately Label Your Ingredients”