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Published January 28, 2011, 03:41 PM

Taco Bell to lawyers in beef complaint: 'Thank you for suing us'

LOS ANGELES — The quality of Taco Bell's beef may be called into question, but their sense of humor isn't.

By: McClatchy Newspapers, INFORUM

LOS ANGELES — 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, Calif.-based Mexican fast food chain has launched a massive marketing campaign — 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, the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, the 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."

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 percent beef and 12 percent 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 California law firms on behalf of consumer Amanda Obney. The complaint claims that tests of the chain's beef filling found only 35 percent actual meat and 65 percent things you'd be more likely to find in a food scientist's laboratory than a home 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 percent 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 percent "secret" ingredients include 3 percent water and 4 percent Mexican spices and "flavors." The last 5 percent, 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."


Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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