Lawyers ask Taco Bell, "Where's the Beef?"
While not exactly a household name, in the 1980s her face and pugnacious attitude made her a famous advertising icon. Shouting “Where’s the beef!” Clara Peller was the centerpiece of one of the most effective advertising campaigns of that bygone decade, starring in a series of TV commercials for Wendy’s, the fast food burger chain.
Peller’s character in the ads was amusing and entertaining, and therefore memorable. That was then. These days, the question “Where’s the beef” is heading to the court room, a decidedly less amusing and entertaining venue.
The question now, asked by lawyers from the law firms Blood Hurst and O'Reardon in San Diego and Beasley Allen in Montgomery, Alabama is “where’s the beef in a Taco Bell taco?”
The lawyers insist that Taco Bell’s beef does not meet government requirements. “In order for it to be a beef product, it has to be — according to the federal government — 70 percent beef [and] 30 percent fat. That is the minimum requirement for it to be beef,” said attorney Dee Miles.
In response to the accusations, Taco Bell President Greg Creed posted a statement on the Taco Bell Website. According to Creed:
The lawsuit is bogus and filled with completely inaccurate facts. Our beef is 100% USDA inspected, just like the quality beef you would buy in a supermarket and prepare in your home. It then is slow-cooked and simmered with proprietary seasonings and spices to provide Taco Bell's signature taste and texture. Our seasoned beef recipe contains 88% quality USDA-inspected beef and 12% seasonings, spices, water and other ingredients that provide taste, texture and moisture. The lawyers got their facts wrong. We take this attack on our quality very seriously and plan to take legal action against them for making false statements about our products. There is no basis in fact or reality for this suit and we will vigorously defend the quality of our products from frivolous and misleading claims such as this.
In addition posting a rebuttal on its own Website, Taco Bell also mounted a media blitz in major news papers, taking out full-page ads in the Wall Street Journal, USA TODAY, the New York Times and other papers. The company also purchased ads in online media as well in an effort to "set the record straight," according to company President Greg Creed said.
The negative media coverage, however, even attracted the attention of Comedy Central star Stephen Colbert. On his Colbert Report, the raconteur took Taco Bell to task for including silicon dioxide, otherwise known as sand, among the company’s ingredients. Currently, the Taco Bell ingredient list includes silicon dioxide as an ingredient in the company’s chili, enchilada rice, red sauce, rice, seasoned ground beef, and southwest chicken.
While the inclusion of silicon dioxide in food products seems unusual, in fact it is a commonly used ingredient. The 1983 Dictionary of Food Ingredients notes that silicon dioxide is “an anticaking agent, carrier, and dispersant which can absorb approximately 120% of its weight and remain free flowing. It is used in salt, flours, and powdered soups to prevent caking caused by moisture. It is also used in powdered coffee whitener, vanilla powder, baking powder, dried egg yolk, and tortilla chips.” The uses of silicon dioxide as a food additive is also described in the World Health Organization’s Codex Alimentarius, used to regulate foods in the European Union nations.
Regardless of what ingredients Taco Bell includes in its beef or beef-like products, the company nonetheless faces a public that is often skeptical of its quality.
One Facebook user commenting on the Stephen Colbert's criticism of Taco Bell characterized the company's product as "diseased super mass-media food," while Texas CBS affiliate station KYTX in Tyler, Texas, quoted one East Texas resident who said he "stopped eating Taco Bell back in high school, about five years ago," presumably over concerns about quality.
But the station also quoted dietician Tami Lawrence who had another take on the Taco Bell controversy. "The product doesn't have to contain all the beef," Lawrence said according to the station's report. "It can contain the fillers in there which don't have all the fat."
So, where's the beef this time? Apparently, it will be up to the courts to decide.