“Where’s the beef?” Wendy’s restaurants once famously asked through its advertising as a swipe at its small-burger competitors.

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, she’s brought a false-advertising lawsuit against the huge fast-food Mexican restaurant 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, 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 in 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 did not immediately return a request for comment but it told Alabama television station, WSFA, 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.

[By Gregory Karp]

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