Fowl play? Subway denies its chicken is only 50% real
BY NICOLE SPECTOR, NBC News
(NBC News) - "Eat Fresh," Subway's slogan, may need to be revised to "Eat Fresh, Sort Of," if a new test's findings are accurate.
CBC Marketplace, a Canadian news network, says it DNA-tested the sub sandwich chain's chicken at several of its locations and found that only 50 percent of it was real chicken meat. The remaining DNA was found to be mostly soy, according to the test.
The accusations made by CBC Marketplace about the content of our chicken are absolutely false and misleading. Our chicken is 100 percent white meat with seasonings, marinated and delivered to our stores as a finished, cooked product," a Subway spokesperson told NBC News.
"We have advised them of our strong objections. We do not know how they produced such unreliable and factually incorrect data, but we are insisting on a full retraction. Producing high quality food for our customers is our highest priority. This report is wrong and it must be corrected," the statement read.
Still Feel Like Chicken Tonight? Meanwhile, consumers are grossed out by the alleged fowl play. And they're taking to social media to vent their concerns and inquire about that other 50 percent.
"The finding that some of Subway's chicken may be only 50 percent poultry is afoul with the company's recent marketing claims," said Jessica Levings, owner of Balanced Pantry. "Making select claims that appeal to consumers while selling them a sandwich with only 50 percent of what it claims to be is deceptive and confusing. Consumers would likely be making different purchasing decisions if their subs were marketed as 'oven roasted chicken and soy sub,' even if it was antibiotic free."
Well, It Could Be Worse Than Soy It's tough to look on the bright side when you've possibly been lied to, but it should be noted that soy generally is not harmful to consume (unless you have an allergy, of course). It can actually be healthier than chicken in some cases.
"Soy is a perfectly edible protein source," said Dr. Myers R. Hurt III, who specializes in family medicine at Diamond Luxury Healthcare. "Soy is what makes tofu the proverbial 'flavor sponge' that can be cooked to taste like any number of things, so it likely blends well with chicken."
Jacy Reese, senior fellow at Sentience Politics and author of "The End of Animal Farming," opines that soy is a much healthier protein source than chicken.
"Studies suggest that 97 percent of US chicken contains harmful bacteria, often from fecal contamination," said Reese. "Chicken also still contains the carcinogens, cholesterol, and saturated fat that other meats do, despite efforts to portray it as the healthy meat."
Soy on the other hand, has been found to help "decrease cancer risks and reduce inflammation," added Reese.
The Problem with DNA Testing In response to the CBC study, Subway has said that it uses "1 percent or less of soy protein to help stabilize the texture and moisture" — substantially less than the alleged DNA findings of 50 percent soy in its chicken. But there's reason to question the DNA test's accuracy.
Dr. Edward Mills, associate professor of meat science at Penn State University says that DNA testing isn't the most efficient technique for quantification of a substance.
"DNA technology is effective for determining presence or absence with good accuracy, meaning it can determine 'yes it is there, or no it is not,'" said Mills. "The nature of the amplification system for DNA makes it less reliable in determining [presence] to the second decimal place. It's just not good for that technique. What you'd want is an antibody labeling."
Still, Mills suspects that most likely, Subway is using more than 1 percent of soy, simply because the DNA tests detected so much soy. It may not be as high as 50 percent, but it's probably not nearly as low as we were led to believe.
Who's to Blame and What Now? It's easy to point fingers at Subway and call "Liar!", but we may want to give Subway the benefit of the doubt at least to an extent. It's possible that the decision makers have also deceived about what's going into the chain's products. Then the blame would fall on the product manager.
"I'm not ready to accuse Subway of lying," said Mills. "What I [suspect] is that a product manager doesn't know what his product is and he will be scrambling to find that out in the next hour and a half."
The only way to know with 100 percent accuracy what's in Subway chicken, is to actually visit where the product is being formulated. This sort of mission is off limits to the public, but the USDA has every right to investigate, added Mills.
What Can Subway Do Now? The best move Subway can take now is to not only investigate its facilities (along with a USDA inspector), but to also commission an independent testing of its chicken products.
"If Subway wants to quell consumer fears, they could commission an independent investigation with steps to avoid bias," said Reese. "For example, they could ensure that the results of the investigation are published whether or not they come out favorably. But it's very challenging to avoid all bias, and third-party studies without Subway's involvement are probably the best resource consumers have."