Stories are making the rounds that popular chicken sandwiches from Subway contain only about 50 percent chicken. Here's some context so you can decide how much to freak out.
First, this is not a study in the same way we think of peer-reviewed research published in a scientific journal; it's an investigation done by a Canadian news site. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's consumer affairs show Marketplace worked with Matt Harnden, an employee at Trent University's Wildlife Forensic DNA Laboratory in Peterborough, Ontario, to test six chicken sandwiches purchased from five local fast food chains to see how much chicken DNA the meat contained.
They tested the following sandwiches: A&W Chicken Grill Deluxe, McDonald's Country Chicken - Grilled, Subway Oven Roasted Chicken Sandwich, Subway Sweet Onion Chicken Teriyaki, Tim Hortons Chipotle Chicken Grilled Wrap, and Wendy's Grilled Chicken Sandwich. (It's unclear exactly why this test was conducted and how these six sandwiches were chosen, but I digress.)
An "unadulterated" piece of chicken should contain 100 percent chicken DNA, but seasoning, marinating, and processing would bring that number down, so the researchers didn't expect that fast-food chicken would hit 100 percent. They did two rounds of DNA testing and averaged the results. The sandwiches from A&W, McDonald's, Tim Hortons, and Wendy's ranged from 84.9 percent to 89.4 percent chicken DNA—pretty respectable. But Subway's results were such an outlier, CBC says, that they tested the chicken pieces and strips a third time. The final score? The oven roasted chicken was 53.6 percent chicken DNA and the chicken strips were 42.8 percent chicken DNA. Most of the remaining DNA was soy.
CBC did reach out to each of the five companies for a response to their investigation. A&W, McDonald's, and Wendy's told the CBC that the sandwiches in question use a single piece of chicken breast while Tim Hortons referred them to its website. Subway issued a statement to CBC which seemed to suggest that their chicken is restructured—that is, bound together with other ingredients.
SUBWAY Canada cannot confirm the veracity of the results of the lab testing you had conducted. However, we are concerned by the alleged findings you cite with respect to the proportion of soy content. Our chicken strips and oven roasted chicken contain 1 percent or less of soy protein. We use this ingredient in these products as a means to help stabilize the texture and moisture. All of our chicken items are made from 100 percent white meat chicken which is marinated, oven roasted and grilled. We tested our chicken products recently for nutritional and quality attributes and found it met our food quality standards. We will look into this again with our supplier to ensure that the chicken is meeting the high standard we set for all of our menu items and ingredients.
This test is by no means a rigorous scientific exercise. And it's not like they found DNA from other animals in these chicken products, which is somewhat of a relief. But if the findings are true, you might just be getting less chicken than you paid for, and more soy than you expected. While we don't know the long-term effects of a diet high in processed soy, it probably won't give you manboobs. Some RDs are wary of it, and experts think we're all eating too many omega-6 fatty acids, something soy is high in. And processed soy may not have been what you had in mind when you decided to "eat fresh."