Diana Bradley
Jun 25, 2021

Subway dismisses fishy claims about its tuna sandwiches

The sandwich chain contends its tuna sandwiches actually do contain tuna, adding that DNA testing is not reliable.

Is it or isn't it? Subway is having to defend its tuna sandwiches as actual tuna (Getty)
Is it or isn't it? Subway is having to defend its tuna sandwiches as actual tuna (Getty)

Subway is contending that news outlets are getting the wrong end of the stick based on a report by The New York Times that found, based on an independent study, no trace of tuna DNA in Subway tuna sandwiches.  

The NYT published its story on June 19, conducting the study after a lawsuit was filed in federal court alleging Subway’s tuna sandwiches contained no tuna but instead "a mixture of various concoctions that do not constitute tuna, yet have been blended together by defendants [Subway] to imitate the appearance of tuna."

The Times' own study found that “no amplifiable tuna DNA was present in the sample and so we obtained no amplification products from the DNA.” The paper added that it had two conclusions from the results: "One, it's so heavily processed that whatever we could pull out, we couldn't make an identification. Or we got some and there's just nothing there that's tuna."

In response, Subway wants consumers to know that it serves 100% wild-caught tuna; and that the plaintiffs abandoned their claim that Subway's tuna product contains no tuna after being presented with information about Subway’s tuna and the reliability of DNA testing.

In a statement, a Subway spokesperson said that The New York Times’ report acknowledges that DNA testing is an unreliable methodology for identifying processed tuna.

“DNA testing is simply not a reliable way to identify denatured proteins, like Subway’s tuna, which was cooked before it was tested,” the spokesperson said. “Unfortunately, various media outlets have confused the inability of DNA testing to confirm a specific protein with a determination that the protein is not present.”  

The testing that The New York Times report references does not show that there is not tuna in Subway’s tuna, the spokesperson added.  

“All it says is that the testing could not confirm tuna, which is what one would expect from a DNA test of denatured proteins,” said the spokesperson.

As tuna is one of Subway’s most popular products, the reports could negatively impact the chain’s franchisees, which the spokesperson referred to as “small business owners who work tirelessly to uphold the high standards that Subway sets for all of its products, including its tuna.” 

Although the plaintiffs in the lawsuit abandoned their original claim that Subway's tuna product does not contain tuna, the plaintiffs’ lawyers filed an amended complaint that alleges the chain’s tuna product is now not 100% tuna and that it is not sustainably caught skipjack and yellowfin tuna.  

“Just like the original claim, the new claims are untrue and have absolutely no merit,” said the Subway spokesperson. “In fact, the amended complaint does not remedy any of the fundamental flaws in the plaintiffs’ case that should result in the case being dismissed. Given the facts, the lawsuit constitutes a reckless and improper attack on Subway's brand and goodwill, and on the livelihood of its franchisees.” 

Subway works with Current Global.

Subway’s tuna is being mocked on Twitter.


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