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What Taco Bell's Win in the Fake Beef Lawsuit Really Means

The Alabama law firm that filed the infamous fake beef class action lawsuit against Taco Bell (YUM) dropped its legal fight on Tuesday, a move that suggests it never had the legal ammunition it needed to take Taco Bell to court. After all, Taco Bell's biggest transgression against food quality -- its prolific use of strange, artificial ingredients in its food -- isn't at all illegal.

Beasley, Allen, Crow, Methvin, Portis & Miles tried to sue Taco Bell over tests it claimed to have performed showing the chain uses only 35% beef in its taco filing, less than what the USDA requires. But suspiciously, the firm never revealed who did the tests, how they were performed or where the meat samples were taken from. And Taco Bell always maintained that the firm's numbers were wildly off -- 35% versus 88% beef.

Our tacos, now with more than 40% beef
We now know that Taco Bell was right, or at least that Beasley Allen was wrong. The first problem for the law firm was that it was trying to work with a legal standard that doesn't exactly set a high bar. The USDA requires only 40% of taco filing to be actual beef. If Taco Bell was using just 45%, Beasley Allen still wouldn't have had a case.

As for how the firm got its testing numbers wrong, we don't know because the lawyer who headed up the ill-fated effort, Dee Miles, isn't commenting. And the firm appears to have scrubbed all mentions of the law suit from its web site.

But Taco Bell sure hasn't. The company continues to add to its "About Our Seasoned Beef" section of its web site, posting feisty full-page newspaper ads that tauntingly asks Beasley Allen to apologize. From the ads, which ran yesterday:

Because we've ALWAYS used 100% USDA-inspected premium beef....Like we've been saying all along, we stand behind the quality of every single one of our ingredients, including our seasoned beef....As for the lawyers who brought this suit: You got it wrong, and you're probably feeling pretty bad right about now. But you know what always helps? Saying to everyone, "I'm sorry." C'mon, you can do it!
"Premium" beef? Think again
The ads are cute, but what could get lost in Taco Bell's victory lap is the fact that the chain does not, in fact, serve "premium" products. I'm not saying Taco Bell's food isn't yummy or reliably consistent. It's just not what customers have in mind when they hear the words "real" or "premium."

Premium beef these days would be from cattle raised without hormones or antibiotics, and real taco filing would be made with only a few simple, natural ingredients, not with things like isolated oat product, silicon dioxide and soy lecithin that have absolutely nothing to do with beef.

And as I've pointed out before, Taco Bell's favorite adjective for meat -- "100% USDA inspected" -- is a meaningless term. Virtually all of the meat sold in the U.S. is USDA-inspected since federal inspectors are required in slaughterhouses. And federal inspection is not a fine-tooth-comb process. It doesn't mean meat will be free from deadly bacteria or of high quality.

Image by Flickr user The Rocketeer
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