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Published: Saturday, 1/29/2011

Taco Bell fights back against beef lawsuit

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 major newspapers across the country 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."

But there's also a very serious tone to the company's PR counter-offensive, which includes 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.

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. Mr. Creed, in the YouTube video, says its beef is "100 percent USDA-inspected."

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, Mr. Creed explains, is a combination of caramelized sugar, yeast, citric acid, and "other" ingredients.

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