Fact Sheet

'Mystery meat' lawsuit dropped: A victory for Taco Bell?

The fast-food giant is all smiles after charges that it falsely called its taco filling "seasoned beef" are scrapped

Taco Bell is claiming a meaty victory now that the lawsuit alleging that its taco filling couldn't legally be called "beef" has been dropped. Here, a guide to the case:

What was the lawsuit about?
Alabama-based law firm Beasley Allen filed suit in January on behalf of a California woman, claiming that Taco Bell's meat filling did not meet the federal standards required to be called "beef," because it only contained 36 percent meat. Taco Bell fought back aggressively, launching a widespread campaign that cost between $3 million and $4 million. The company explained that its seasoned beef was 88 percent USDA-inspected meat, and the other 12 percent were spices like salt, chili pepper and onion powder.

Why was the suit dropped?
That's not completely clear. The law firm says it withdrew the suit after Taco Bell made changes to its marketing and disclosure practices. But Taco Bell CEO Greg Creed insists his company made no changes to its food or its advertising — and that no money was paid to the lawyers or plaintiffs.

So was this a victory for Taco Bell?
The fast-food chain is definitely treating it that way. It took out full-page ads Wednesday in 10 major newspapers across the U.S., targeting Beasley Allen. "Would it kill you to say you're sorry?" read the ads. "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!"

But did the lawsuit damage Taco Bell's brand?
In early February, the chairman and CEO of Taco Bell's parent company, Yum Brands, said that the lawsuit was having a "negative, short-term impact" on the fast-food chain, according to the Associated Press. But he added that the company had "turned the tide" with its strong campaign. And many commentators doubt there will be long-lasting damage. "Beef? Meat filler? Who cares. If you like Taco Bell, would it make a difference anyway?" asks Laura Hahnefeld at Phoenix New Times.

Sources: Associated Press (2), Boston Herald, Fox News, NPR, Phoenix New Times, Reuters, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post

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