Will you ever eat at Taco Bell again?

By Seyi Obasa

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A class action lawsuit filed on Jan. 19 by California law firm Blood, Hurst, & O’Reardon LLP, and Alabama firm Beasley, Allen, Crow, Methvin, Portis & Miles on behalf of Californian Amanda Obney accuses the Taco Bell chain of using beef filling in lieu of real ground beef. According to United States Department of Agriculture standards, taco beef filling must be at least 40 percent fresh meat, and must be clearly labeled taco filling with meat, beef taco filling or taco meat filling. Greg Creed, Taco Bell’s president is not amused by these accusations and told ABC News that the company “would not be taking this sullying of their reputation lying down.” Allegedly, Taco Bell’s meat is said to only constitute about 35 percent beef, with the rest being filler such as binders, extenders, preservatives and other additives. The plaintiff’s main complaint is that their meat is being advertised as real ground beef and is thus being misleading to customers.

The real question and problem are the government’s baseline standards to begin with. According to USDA standards, taco beef and ground beef are two different things. Ground beef must be at least 70 percent beef and not include additional water, phosphates, extenders and binders, although seasoning can be an ingredient. Taco meat must be at least 40 percent fresh meat. The fact that there is such a discrepancy between the two kinds of meat is quite questionable. The regulations allow companies to sell customers labeled taco filling that is mostly additives. Standards should be raised for the quality of beef across the board as to keep restaurants and fast food chains honest, as well as ensuring that fast food chains use quality or at least semi-quality ingredients in their foods.

The same can be said of standards with other consumer foods. Did you know that genetically modified food on the market is not entirely required to be labeled as such? Such is out in supermarkets near you, and the consumer is not made aware of it.

Other fast foods, such as McNuggets, according to the book, “The Omnivores’ Dilemma,” contain up to 38 synthetic ingredients, including TBHQ, which is sprayed onto McNuggets to preserve freshness.

With all this talk about the legitimacy of our fast food and consumer-based food aside, it is too early to tell how this is going to affect the overall consumer’s perception of the brand. Will Taco Bell lose substantial business, as a result of these claims, and will the plaintiffs successfully prove that the company has been falsely advertising their product? I can remember very clearly when the documentary, “Super Size Me,” came out. It created a mass hysteria among viewers and opinions were quite mixed. Some people vowed to never touch McDonald’s again, while other people I know craved McDonald’s right after watching the movie. The same may be the case for Taco Bell. Like the popular axiom goes: “Any publicity is good publicity.” Many people, believe it or not, may want to buy more Beefy Crunch Burritos as a result. In the grand scheme of things, McDonald’s sales haven’t been affected. However, the documentary has arguably resulted in a change of their practices as they’ve gotten rid of the super size option within their chains. Such publicity may arguably have a similar effect on Taco Bell.

Whether or not the plaintiffs can successfully prove that Taco Bell has been falsely advertising their product is still left to be decided, but this court case may bring more attention to the restaurant chain’s practices, as well as general government standards in regards to food. Public awareness may be the most important outcome of this entire fiasco, and it may be the plaintiff’s primary objective.

As for me, will I ever buy Taco Bell again? I have never really been crazy about their food to begin with, and I usually enjoy making tacos from ground beef, materials, shells and seasoning from the grocery store. However, after hearing about the possibility that their meat is up to 65 percent filler, I highly doubt I would consider going there again. But that is not to say that I don’t enjoy my fix of the 10 piece McNugget meal or Stouffer’s French bread Pepperoni Pizzas every now and then. A lot of our food is allowed to be processed according to government standards, so it is hard to escape in the typical American diet in general. It’s up you to decide one way or the other if you want to consume tacos that may or may not possibly contain anti-dusting agents.

Seyi Obasa is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at [email protected]