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Taco Bell to class-action lawyers in beef battle: Thanks for giving us a reason to sue you

January 28, 2011 | 11:43 am

TB_Beef_ad_FINAL_color The quality of Taco Bell’s beef may be called into question, but their sense of humor isn’t.

Fighting back against a lawsuit that alleges the company’s beef isn’t very meaty, the Irvine-based Mexican fast food chain has launched a massive marketing campaign today –- including snarky full-page newspaper ads that declare, “Thank you for suing us.”

The fast-food chain’s ads in Friday’s editions of the Los Angeles Times, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, New York Times and other papers is the chain's effort to set the record straight, according to company officials.

“Plain ground beef tastes boring,” the ad states. “The only reason we add anything to our beef is to give the meat flavor and quality. Otherwise we’d end up with nothing more than the bland flavor of ground beef, and that doesn’t make for great-tasting tacos.”

(I’m sure cattle ranchers now can’t wait to run to Taco Bell’s drive-thru window.)

But there’s also a very serious tone to the company’s PR counter-offensive, which includes information on its Facebook page and a YouTube video of Taco Bell President Greg Creed insisting that the meat mix is “88% beef and 12% secret recipe.”

And now, the company -- protesting that its  reputation had been sullied -- is threatening to countersue the plaintiffs and their lawyers.

So, where’s the beef in all this brouhaha?

It started with a class-action lawsuit filed in federal court on Jan. 19, by two law firms on behalf of consumer Amanda Obney. The complaint claims that tests of the chain’s beef filling found only 35% actual meat and 65% things you’d be more likely to find in a food scientist’s laboratory than a suburban kitchen –- such as binders, preservatives, extenders and additives.

The complaint, among other things, claims Taco Bell is falsely advertising its product and wants the company to stop calling its meat mixture "beef."

Taco Bell was quick to jump into this food fight. Creed, in the YouTube video, says its beef is “100% USDA inspected, just like the quality beef you buy in a supermarket and prepare in your home.”

He goes on to explain that the 12% “secret” ingredients include 3% water and 4% Mexican spices and “flavors.” The last 5%, Creed explains, is a combination of caramelized sugar, yeast, citric acid and “other” ingredients.

The company has posted a statement and full list of ingredients. Among the more head-scratching? Soy lecithin, maltodrextrin, sodium phosphates and isolated oat product.

Even Creed seemed a bit unsure Friday why that last item was used. When ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos asked Creed about the ingredient on "Good Morning America," the executive said he wasn’t a food scientist but that every ingredient was “in there for a purpose.”

-- P.J. Huffstutter

Photo: Taco Bell newspaper ad. Credit: Taco Bell

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