Jan. 28, 2011 -- A California woman's class-action has called into question whether Taco Bell's meat filling can be accurately labeled "beef," but Taco Belll President Greg Creed said it would not be taking this "sull[ying] of their reputation" lying down.
"Attacking a brand is like attacking a person. It's just unacceptable when there aren't any facts to support it," Creed told ABC News' George Stephanopoulos today on "Good Morning America."
The company has already begun fighting back with "swift and decisive" counterattack ad campaigns both in print and on YouTube, Creed explained, and is looking into what legal action the company can take against the plaintiff for making allegedly false statements about Taco Bell products.
The lawsuit, filed Jan. 19 by California law firms Blood, Hurst & O'Reardon LLP, and Beasley, Allen, Crow, Methvin, Portis & Miles on behalf of Amanda Obney, claims Taco Bell's beef filling is 65 percent binders, extenders, preservatives, additives and other agents. They want Taco Bell to stop calling it "beef."
But Creed said the beef is 88 percent quality USDA-inspected beef, a 'big difference" from the 35 percent beef quoted by the plaintiff.
"We have 3 percent water, 4 percent seasoning and spices," Creed told "GMA." When it came to that other nonbeef percentage, which the plaintiff claims contains "phosphates, binder and extenders, as well as other ingredients regular people do not use in recipes cooked at home," according to a statement given to ABC News, Creed would say only that any other ingredients besides beef and spices were there "for a purpose ... to enhance the flavor, the texture, the taste and all the things that make taco bell meat so tasty."
When Stephanopoulos questioned Creed specifically about one particular ingredient in the plaintiff's complaint that has caught the public's eye: isolated oat product, Creed said he could not answer why it was there because he's not a food scientist but reiterated it's there "for a purpose."
Creed said that the company would have no difficulty proving that 88 percent beef content in a court case because "the truth is on our side."
The full list of ingredients is posted on the Taco Bell website.
The lawsuit garnered significant media attention, prompting headlines like "Where's the Beef?"
But the law firms behind the suit are standing their ground.
"We are disappointed that Taco Bell chooses to repeat its false statements rather than simply tell the truth," said Timothy Blood, a lawyer with Blood, Hurst & O'Reardon LLP. "Food additives such as isolated oat product, wheat oats, soy lecithin, maltodrextrin, anti-dusting agents, autolyzed yeast extract, modified corn starch and sodium phosphate are neither beef nor spices."
Since filing the suit, the firms have received e-mails and phone calls from Taco Bell customers who say they've suffered "severe allergic reactions from eating the food additives in Taco Bell's beef-flavored food products," Blood said.
"We urge Taco Bell to be at least as interested in the well-being of its customers as it is in marketing, public relations and profit," Blood said.