Sandwich chain Subway is going on the offensive after being accused of selling chicken that was only about half chicken.
The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's consumer affairs show Marketplace recently tested meat samples from five Canadian fast food joints and said the chicken from two Subway sandwiches contained only 53.6 percent and 42.8 percent chicken DNA and most of the remaining DNA was soy. This was much lower than the other sandwiches, which clocked (clucked?) in at about 85 to 90 percent chicken DNA.
Subway commissioned its own tests of the sandwiches in question—Oven Roasted Chicken and Sweet Onion Chicken Teriyaki—by sending samples to labs in Canada and Florida. In a statement, the company said both labs found that soy protein content was less than 10 parts per million (ppm), or less than one percent of the samples. The company adds some soy protein to its chicken, along with spices and marinade, to "help keep the products moist and flavourful." And maybe a little rubbery.
Subway President and CEO Suzanne Greco said in a statement "the allegation that our chicken is only 50 percent chicken is 100 percent wrong." That's because DNA analysis doesn't tell you how much of an ingredient is in something—it just says the DNA is there. If you tested a person for DNA, for example, you'd get a mix of human DNA and that of the bacteria that live on and in us. And as the Washington Post points out, cells from different organisms contain different amounts of DNA and cells also vary by mass, which explains why there could be relatively high amounts of soy DNA but not a lot of actual soy.
In a follow-up story, the CBC said that "while many media outlets took the results to mean that the chicken is only half chicken, the reality of DNA testing is slightly more nuanced." Too bad its own headline crowed that "DNA test shows Subway sandwiches could contain just 50% chicken," which undoubtedly set the tone for other publications' coverage. But Robert Hanner, a biologist at the University of Guelph even told the CBC that DNA percentages "cannot be taken as exact mass ratios in the product." Subway is demanding a retraction from the CBC.
Regardless of whether the results of the DNA tests were fairly presented, Subway sandwiches still had much higher plant DNA than those tested from A&W, McDonald's, Tim Hortons, and Wendy's. If you don't want soy protein in your chicken, you should know that, unlike Subway in Canada, US Subway locations don't put it in their chicken patties—that's according to Subway's ingredient list (PDF). But soy protein is in the chicken strips, which are used in the Sweet Onion Chicken Teriyaki and Chicken & Bacon Ranch Melt sandwiches and the ingredient also shows up in the Meatball Marinara sub. We await a meatball exposé.
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