Home Weekend WTF? Weekend WTF: No Meat In Your Taco Bell Taco

Weekend WTF: No Meat In Your Taco Bell Taco

by Erika Nicole Kendall

I can remember, as a teen, we swore up and down that Taco Bell beef was “kangaroo meat,” or “Grade Q.” Something to that effect. Of course, it’s been an eternity since I last ate anything from Taco Bell, let alone their beef… but I still can’t help but be tickled by this.

Now… I don’t go in too much on fast food… I just say don’t eat it. If you ever wanted a real, true, honest and legitimate reason as to why? Check out the motherlode of processing secrets below.

From Gizmodo:

Taco Bell’s “beef” pseudo-Mexican delicacies are really made of a gross mixture called “Taco Meat Filling” as shown on their big container’s labels, like the one pictured here. The list of ingredients is gruesome. Updated.

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.

It looks bad but passable… until you learn that—according to the Alabama law firm suing Taco Bell—only 36% of that is beef. Thirty-six percent. The other 64% is mostly tasteless fibers, various industrial additives and some flavoring and coloring. Everything is processed into a mass that actually looks like beef, and packed into big containers labeled as “taco meat filling.” These containers get shipped to Taco Bell’s outlets and cooked into something that looks like beef, is called beef and is advertised as beef by the fast food chain.

Can you call beef something that looks like ground beef but it’s 64% lots-of-other-stuff? Taco Bell thinks they can.

That’s the reason why an Alabama law firm is presenting a class action lawsuit for false advertising—they are not asking for any money—saying that the fake Mexican food maker should label their processed clustermass of disgust as what it really is in all promotional materials, following USDA laws. It appears that they have a very good point.

According to the USDA, Taco Bell can’t call this mixture “beef” at all. Beef is officially defined as “flesh of cattle”, and ground beef is defined as:

Chopped fresh and/or frozen beef with or without seasoning and without the addition of beef fat as such, shall not contain more than 30 percent fat, and shall not contain added water, phosphates, binders, or extenders.

That is certainly nothing like the mix that they are using in their products.

The law firm argues that the meatmud correctly labeled as “taco meat filling” in the industrial packaging should be labeled in exactly the same way in all advertising and packaging, as the USDA mandates. Of course, the All-New Double Decker with Two Times More Taco Meat Filling would not sound very good on TV.

The right to know

Taco Bell’s meat filling looks like ground beef before and after cooking, but it has been augmented with fibers and other substances to keep the price low. That’s how they can offer tacos for 99 cents—and that’s fine: There’s absolutely nothing wrong with their processed mixture apart from being gross.

The problem here is that the consumers may believe that this “meat filling” is actually beef while it’s not. If it looks like beef, it’s labeled as beef, and it’s advertised as beef, then it must be beef—except that substance is not beef. It’s just “meat filling”. That could deceive the public, which is why there is a class action lawsuit in the works. Consumers have the right to easily learn what they are eating before making a decision to eat a taco or not, just like they need to know before buying cloned meat or genetically modified vegetables or products containing corn syrup.

The final irony: The USDA says that any food labeled as “meat taco filling” should at least have 40% fresh meat. According to the Alabama law firm, Taco Bell stuff only has 36% meat. Perhaps they should call it Almost Taco Meat Filling. [source]

Now… onto the matter of this lovely lawsuit:

“Where’s the beef?” Wendy’s restaurants once famously asked through its advertising, a swipe at its competitors’ burgers.

The same question is now being asked by a California woman regarding Taco Bell’s beef products, which she claims contain very little meat. So little, in fact, that she’s brought a false-advertising lawsuit against the huge fast-food chain.

The class-action suit, which does not ask for money, objects to Taco Bell calling its products “seasoned ground beef or seasoned beef, when in fact a substantial amount of the filling contains substances other than beef.”

It says Taco Bell’s ground beef is made of such components as water, isolated oat product, wheat oats, soy lecithin, maltodextrin, anti-dusting agent, autolyzed yeast extract, modified corn starch and sodium phosphate, as well as some beef and seasonings.

Just 35 percent of the taco filling was a solid, and just 15 percent overall was protein, said attorney W. Daniel “Dee” Miles III of the Montgomery, Ala., law firm Beasley Allen, which filed the suit.

“Taco Bell’s definition of ‘seasoned beef’ does not conform to consumers’ reasonable expectation or ordinary meaning of seasoned beef, which is beef and seasonings,” the suit says. Beef is the “flesh of cattle,” according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“You can’t call it beef by definition,” Miles said. “It’s junk. I wouldn’t eat it.”

Taco Bell, a unit of Yum Brands Inc., did not immediately return a request for comment.

But it told Alabama television station WSFA-TV in a prepared statement: “Taco Bell prides itself on serving high quality Mexican inspired food with great value. We’re happy that the millions of customers we serve every week agree. We deny our advertising is misleading in any way and we intend to vigorously defend the suit.”

For many menu choices, customers are given the choice of chicken, beef or carne asada steak as fillings for their Taco Bell products, such as burritos, Gorditas and Chalupas.

“The ‘chicken’ and ‘carne asada steak’ served by Taco Bell is, in fact, chicken and carne asada steak. The ‘seasoned beef,’ however, is not beef,” the suit contends.

Apparently, the industry — and Taco Bell internally — calls the substance “taco meat filling,” avoiding the word “beef,” according to the suit.

However, even that term is supposed to be used for products that are at least 40 percent beef. Taco Bell’s taco filling falls short of that definition too, Miles said.

The suit was filed Jan. 19 in federal court on behalf of Amanda Obney of California. [source]

Their response to all of this is… um, a little disturbing:


At Taco Bell, we buy our beef from the same trusted brands you find in the supermarket, like Tyson Foods. 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. We are proud of the quality of our beef and identify all the seasoning and spice ingredients on our website. Unfortunately, the lawyers in this case elected to sue first and ask questions later — and got their “facts” absolutely wrong. We plan to take legal action for the false statements being made about our food.’

Greg Creed
President and Chief Concept Officer
Taco Bell Corp

So… they’re just gonna act like we don’t see the label? They’re gonna act like it’s not all over the Internet? If Tyson made that meat filling… what the hell else is Tyson doing? And what is autolyzed yeast extract doing in their ingredients list?

And one more question… it takes legal action to coerce Taco Bell into considering being truthful? Remember, there’s also this:

The law firm argues that the meatmud correctly labeled as “taco meat filling” in the industrial packaging should be labeled in exactly the same way in all advertising and packaging, as the USDA mandates. Of course, the All-New Double Decker with Two Times More Taco Meat Filling would not sound very good on TV.

What do you think?

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Divinely Naptural January 29, 2011 - 11:18 AM

Good article…. Taco Bell probably isn’t the worst offender either. I bet if you check the meat content of many of these major restaurant chains you will find similar evils. There is nothing inherently good about the fast ‘food” industry or any of the ingredients they put in our food.

I cringe when I see little children eating this stuff and parents joyfully giving it to them, and when you tell some of them the truth, they don’t care. I really believe some people know they are eating garbage and still don’t care. SMH.

Madame: The Journey January 29, 2011 - 11:23 AM

We referred to Taco Bell as “cat food,” back in the day. I’m sorry, you’re not getting quality beef in a fast food item that costs as low as $0.79, lol. I really hope people aren’t too surprised that it’s full of fillers. To stretch a dime, ’tis what they do!

What baffles me though, is that they’re trying to evade the truth. Seriously, don’t continue the deception – you probably won’t lose that many customers, if any on account of this “revelation.” o_O

Erika January 29, 2011 - 11:37 AM

I think THAT is what’s especially interesting, to me – I wonder if people are even really thinking when it comes to what they’re getting when they spend less than a dollar on a taco. I wonder if that’s classist to ask that question… because not everyone can afford to “be concerned about quality,” but I’m sayin’. You have to – at least – know that there is an issue of severely diminished quality, here.

It’s just proof that fast food’s version of processed foods is, sometimes, worse than what you can get in the stores.

Michelle January 29, 2011 - 10:16 PM

Thanks so much for putting this together…I dont know whenever i went, I never ate the beef after taking a deep look at it when i was a teenager, not to mention it tore my stomach up the very last time i ate it.

The news had someone on there saying that there is almost no protein in the meat which didn’t surprise me.

Valarie October 26, 2011 - 1:38 PM

Actually, if you get into the ingredients of medium quality cat food, there’s more meat/protein in that than there is in the “taco meat filling.” AAFCO standards for pet food require at least 26% protein in cat food. http://www.peteducation.com/article.cfm?c=1+2244&aid=657

Cap'n Crunch January 29, 2011 - 11:24 AM

We used to joke about it, too. Fast food (except Popeyes chicken) has never really looked like food from a restaurant much less the grocery store. While I’m glad someone is challenging them on what’s actually in their food, I wonder if people really thought that was real beef.

Erika January 29, 2011 - 11:28 AM

I honestly don’t think people think twice about it. I mean, I seriously don’t think people think to question it.

“If something was wrong with it, why would it be legal to sell it?”

Maureen January 29, 2011 - 12:30 PM

I don’t really think Popeye’s is concerned with what you put in your body either.

Tracie G. January 29, 2011 - 2:01 PM

LOL…what’s funny to me are people who swear by Taco Bell, but wouldn’t eat anything like Morningstar because “it ain’t real meat.”

Alovelydai January 29, 2011 - 2:07 PM

I work in food industry for an all natural food co. My company produces a large majority of all natural products under various labels. I can tell you first hand that true quality ingredients cost money. There is no such thing as a $0.79 beef taco. EVER. If you want to eat fast food please PLEASE stick to Chipolte.

Halona Black January 29, 2011 - 4:12 PM

Chipotle is awesome! Calorie laden, but awesome!

Michelle January 29, 2011 - 10:20 PM

Haha, calorie laden indeed but yummy, i haven’t gotten to the point where I cut that off yet, i’ve narrowed down to once a month.

Halona Black January 29, 2011 - 4:10 PM

What the hell is isolated oat product???

jasmine January 29, 2011 - 6:12 PM

i havent finished this article yet, but isolated oat product is addressed on page 2. This is the first paragraph:

“Long-distance distribution networks and convenience-craving consumers have meat processors exploring methods to extend the shelf life of all types of proteins—from marinated, raw, prepackaged chicken breasts to fully cooked slabs of ribs to simple ground beef. Factor in that an increasing number of consumers seek out labels with terms such as “natural” and “minimally processed,” and take a pass on “chemical-sounding” names in the ingredient list, and this dramatically reduces the available options for ensuring product longevity”

aka, “lets find natural sound ways to pump chemicals into foods so customers will continue to buy our chemical laden products.

While it is very interesting, I have wanted to throw my monitor to the ground at least twice in two pages, i fear for the safety of company equipment if i read much more lol. you have been warned.


Curlstar January 30, 2011 - 10:36 AM

GURRRRRALLLLL! I have all kinds of problems with the company that runs Taco Bell KFC and Pizza Hut. This just adds more fuel to the fire. But it does sound like this goes way deeper than just these three.

MightyIsis January 30, 2011 - 1:17 PM

People eat Taco Bell and other fast food because it’s cheap and it tastes good. People won’t stop eating it unless there is something poisonous in it or if foreign matter like dirt or bugs are found in the not beef mixture.
Ultimately, fast food isn’t good for anybody especially if one is trying to eat healthily.

LaRoja313 January 30, 2011 - 3:25 PM

People crack me up…did we REALLY need a lawsuit to tell us Taco Bell, or any other fast food restaurant for that matter, is using straight up beef/chicken/fish?? Seriously who among us can say they’ve made tacos at home with beef that tasted anything like a Taco Bell taco?? Even if I break the beef up into really fine pieces it aint happening! LOL Someone else said it earlier but I highly doubt Taco Bell will see any significant dip in traffic because I would believe most people buying the “beef” tacos know they aren’t all legit.

Rita January 30, 2011 - 6:48 PM

I definitely agree with the ideal expressed about people not caring whats in the meat….as a once fast food officianado, I can definitely atest to the fact that I never gave a second thought about what was in the food….I remember specifically not ever liking Taco Bell, Wendy’s and others but once I became a broke college student and these things fit my non existent budget, I buit a tolerance to it and quickly became addicted…..so no I am not amazed that it isnt real meat but I also know it won’t make a difference with a lot of people

Eva January 31, 2011 - 11:04 AM

This is a really great article. I saw the commercial for 99 cent taco and I knew it wasn’t real meat. There’s not way anybody can make money selling a taco for 99 cents, there’s always a catch.

If it seems too good to be true, it is.

manda January 31, 2011 - 4:11 PM

I am finding that the best place to eat is at home. It sucks that I have to cook all my meals, but from finding recipes here and on other sites, I enjoy food that I make myself. I know each ingredient I am eating and am satisfied longer.

CoCo January 31, 2011 - 8:55 PM

This trips me out because on Saturday I took a friend of mine to a sushi restaurant. This restaurant has the freshest, most delicious sushi, but my friend freaked out when she realized one of the pieces of fish was actually eel. She said “That’s it! I’m only eating Taco Bell from now on!” lol I’m going to have her read this article. She should be more freaked out by Taco Bell than she was by a little piece of fish!

Christopher February 1, 2011 - 2:29 PM

It isn’t Mexican food (it isn’t even decent Tex-Mex) and it is junk. You can tell just by looking at it.
Can you believe they once tried to open a store in Mexico? We wouldn’t even give our pets that stuff.

Erika February 1, 2011 - 3:08 PM

LOL Taco Bell themselves calls it “Mexican-inspired.” ROFL

rina November 9, 2011 - 11:32 AM

Another check mark for “reasons to eat clean”!!

Side note: there is this “super chinese buffet” that is popping up all over in my area (mostly in the hood) and the food is super cheap. Its advertised as an “all you can eat super buffet with over ?? items” for only 8.99!! I asked my husband, “what do you think the quality of this food is if they can have you eat as much of this crap as you want for $9”??? The thought scares me away from the place. The food is crap…they are in it to make money, not provide you with a “great deal”!

Erin@BeetsPerMinute August 3, 2015 - 4:40 PM

This doesn’t shock me at all. As for Tyson, I wouldn’t eat their chicken nor would I eat many other mass produced meat. Meat is one of the things I try to buy from organic sources (when I can). Living in Scotland now (I’m a US expat), there are lots of direct farms to buy from for a reasonable price. However, before I moved overseas, I had begun to limit meat consumption due to the questionable “fillers”, feeds, and hormones in it. I agree, if something that isn’t even 40% meat is classified as beef, there’s a serious problem. I’m with you, avoid fast food. Period.

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