In an earlier post, "Where's The Beef?", I discussed how Taco Bell started off slowly, but eventually developed an effective public relations response to a class-action lawsuit claiming that there was little beef in the restaurant's tacos. With the announcement earlier this week that the lawsuit had been voluntarily withdrawn, today Taco Bell really put the hammer down, demanding an apology in full page ads in the Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, New York Times, USA Today and the Wall Street Journal. "Taco Bell demands apology after lawsuit withdrawn."
The dismissal of the lawsuit is a victory for Taco Bell, and the ad is very effective at conveying that point. However, I continue to have problems with Taco Bell's assertion, repeated in this ad, that "[W]e've ALWAYS used 100% USDA-inspected premium beef." First, the issue in the lawsuit was not so much what Taco Bell started with, but what ended up in the tacos. In this regard, Taco Bell itself asserted that its tacos contained 88 percent beef and 12 percent seasonings, spices, water and other ingredients. Second, the term "100% USDA-inspected" is largely meaningless because United States Department of Agriculture inspection of beef is mandatory. In fact, a USDA official has to be on-site whenever a meat processing plant is operating. Therefore all beef is USDA inspected, not just Taco Bell's. Third, the use of the term "premium beef" can also be misleading, because beef can also contain minor amounts of bone, blood vessels, cartilage and nerves, according to the USDA, and ground beef, in particular, is often made from the less-desirable parts of the steer.
Perhaps my quibbles will be seen as minor compared to the overall strength of Taco Bell's eventual response to this litigation. However, given the totality of its litigation and public relations victories, there was no need for it to take a chance and leave open the possibility of criticism.