A California resident has filed a putative class action against Taco Bell Corp., alleging that the company violates consumer protection laws by mislabeling some of its beef products as containing seasoned beef “when in fact a substantial amount of the filling contains substances other than beef.” Obney v. Taco Bell Corp., No. 11-00101 (U.S. Dist. Ct., C.D. Cal., S. Div., filed January 19, 2011). Seeking to certify a nationwide class of consumers and claiming that damages exceed $5 million, the plaintiff alleges violations of California’s Consumer Legal Remedies Act and unlawful business acts and practices, including misbranded food in violation of federal law. She also asks for declaratory and injunctive relief, a corrective advertising campaign, attorney’s fees, and costs.

According to plaintiff’s counsel, testing has shown that “the taco meat filling is about 35 percent meat.” The complaint asserts that the company’s use of the term “seasoned beef” in the labeling and advertising of its beef tacos and burritos is inconsistent with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) definition of ground beef. USDA apparently defines ground beef as consisting of “chopped fresh and/or frozen beef” and not containing “added water, phosphates, binders, or extenders.” The complaint also asserts that USDA’s industry guidance “requires food labeled as ‘Taco filling’ to contain ‘at least 40 percent fresh meat.’”

Taco Bell President Greg Creed has reportedly indicated that the company intends to take legal action against those who filed the lawsuit and says that their allegations are “false claims.” The fast-food chain apparently issued a statement saying that the company “is proud of the quality of our beef and identif[ies] all the seasoning and spice ingredients on our website.” Creed also reportedly said, “At Taco Bell, we buy our beef from the same trusted brands you find in the supermarket. We start with 100 percent USDA-inspected beef. Then we simmer it in our proprietary blend of seasonings and spices to give our seasoned beef its signature Taco Bell taste and texture.” See Associated Press and CBS, January 26, 2011