What's the Deal With Subway's 'Fake Tuna' Lawsuit? A Look Inside the Unusual Case
The saga over Subway's tuna-legitimacy continues as a plaintiff argues that the chain's "100% tuna" claim is false. Subway stands by its statement.
The legal battle over Subway's tuna continues.
In early July, U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar ruled that Subway could be sued over its "100% tuna claim," and refused Subway's request to dismiss the case, allowing the previously filed suit regarding the sandwich chain's alleged false advertising to move forward. The ongoing lawsuit has made headlines and stirred controversy as both Subway and the plaintiffs stand firm in their defenses.
What started the 'fake tuna' case?
In early 2021, Karen Dhanowa and Nilima Amin filed a lawsuit against Subway, alleging the fast food giant's "100% real wild caught tuna" claim was false, and instead contains "animal protein including chicken, pork or cattle, but no discernible tuna DNA."
Based on DNA tests conducted by the Barber Lab at UCLA's Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, the plaintiffs claimed 19 out of 20 samples collected from Subway locations around Southern California had "no detectable tuna DNA sequences whatsoever." Additionally, they claimed that all 20 samples contained "detectable sequences of chicken DNA."
While Dhanowa and Amin claimed that the samples prove Subway's misleading advertising, and "duped" customers into buying premium-priced products "completely bereft of tuna as an ingredient," the judge tossed the case in October 2021, citing that the women failed to provide enough specificity to proceed.
Tigar concluded that "to meet the heightened pleading standard, Plaintiffs still need to describe the specific statements they saw and relied upon, when they saw the statements, and where the statements appeared," according to the October 2021 ruling.
However, the case dismissal was not the end of the fight.
How has the case changed since the last ruling?
Subway's defense claimed that any DNA detection of other products in the tuna could be a result of eggs in the mayonnaise or cross-contamination with other ingredients.
"Although it is possible that Subway's explanations are the correct ones, it is also possible that these allegations refer to ingredients that a reasonable consumer would not reasonably expect to find in a tuna product," Tigar ruled in early July.
As the case has been ongoing, Subway has defended the integrity of its tuna both in court and on social media. Back in February of 2021, the company issued a promo code for 15% off all tuna sandwiches with the code "ITSREAL." Furthermore, Subway has created a blog on its site specifically dedicated to its claim, titled "Tuna Facts."
In the latest motion to dismiss, Subway claimed that the DNA tests that allege the tuna isn't real tuna are unreliable, and the plaintiffs failed to disclose the lab's methodologies.
However, Tigar refused to dismiss the case, noting "the Court finds that the complaint 'as a whole' is sufficiently specific about what is false and why. It states that the 'tuna' description is false either because there is no tuna in the products and/or because there are ingredients that a reasonable person would not expect to find in an item described as 'tuna.' That is enough."
The state of the case is still pending. "While the Court's ruling is disappointing, we look forward to proving our tuna is tuna once and for all," the company stated on its Subway Tuna Facts site.
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