A Meaty Dilemma - What is Really in Taco Bell's Beef?

List: Posted: 01/31/12

According to a lawsuit filed by Alabama law firm Beasley Allen, Taco Bell needs to stop calling their taco filling “beef.”  Taco Bell is defending themselves against the suit and getting ready to head to court.  For Taco Bell, of course, this is something of a PR nightmare.  Fast food meat isn’t exactly known for being 100 percent beef, but what most customers don’t know is that there can be a ton of what has been called 'filler material' in their beef, and it can still be sold to them as beef.


According to the suit, the taco meat filling used in Taco Bell products is around 36 percent beef.  This is way under the threshold for what the USDA considers meat.  If you’re thinking that 36 percent is a scarily low percentage of actual meat, get ready for another shock.  In order for Taco Bell, or any other company, to call something meat, it only has to have 40 percent animal flesh in total.  There are plenty of meat products out there that are not quite fully meat that you have probably been consuming, most notably frozen meals, chicken nuggets, and hamburger patties.


If you're interested, here is an updated list of actual ingredients that makes up Taco Bell's 'Beef':


Beef, water, isolated oat product, salt, chili pepper, onion powder, tomato powder, oats (wheat), soy lecithin, sugar, spices, maltodextrin (a polysaccharide that is absorbed as glucose), soybean oil (anti-dusting agent), garlic powder, autolyzed yeast extract, citric acid, caramel color, cocoa powder, silicon dioxide (anti-caking agent), natural flavors, yeast, modified corn starch, natural smoke flavor, salt, sodium phosphate, less than 2% of beef broth, potassium phosphate, and potassium lactate.


Unfortunately, this is how Taco Bell can afford to offer tacos for 99 cents each.  There is some meat in there, if you can be bothered to look really hard.  The rest is basically a  mixture of plant fibers, corn, and sugar.  This also begs the question about whether if American consumers really can't tell the difference, would they accept Taco Bell raising the price of a Taco to $2 each, just so they can be assured they're eating real meat and not beef substitute?


Ultimately, the courts will have to decide if Taco Bell gets to call its taco filling meat or not.  Taco Bell is one of the largest fast food restaurant chains in the nation, so there’s certainly a lot at stake.  Taco Bell, like most fast food restaurants, thrives on low prices and convenience, so it remains to be seen how much impact the suit will have on their overall business.

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