Irish Supreme Court: Subway Bread Too Sweet to Count as Bread

  • You might be better off making your own sandwiches if you want to eat healthy

It’s a fairly common more-or-less serious joke to question whether fast food counts as food. People have questioned the food-iness of the offerings of various restaurants, like the McDonald’s meal that looks exactly the same as it did 10 years ago.

There have also been controversies about the stuff they use as additives in fast food. For a good example, check out pink slime. Just, uh, make sure you eat first.


The sandwich chain Subway has always tried to stand against this common perception about fast food. The company likes to claim that it provides a healthier alternative.

To an extent, that might be true. After all, it’s a submarine sandwich. If you put a lot of veggies in it and don’t drench it in dressing, it ought to be pretty healthy, right?

And there shouldn’t be anything too weird in the ingredients, either. I mean, they make the sandwich right in front of you, how more transparent could you get?

Well, you will get some kind of a meat product, cheese, and vegetables, all stuffed into… Something resembling bread but not quite bread, at least according to the Supreme Court of Ireland.

In a fresh ruling, the Irish Supreme Court found that Subway’s loaves do not meet the legal definition of bread. The rolls contain too much sugar for them to be considered bread products under Irish law, reported the Irish Independent.

And then we wonder why Europeans crack jokes about Americans being fat.

The secret ingredient is sugar, and lots of it.

Taxes, Taxes, Taxes…

The court’s decision came in the aftermath of a heated taxation debate around the heated sandwiches. We’ll do our best to make this an entertaining read, but please understand, there’s only so much fun you can pull out of taxes.

First of all, according to the laws of Ireland, bread is considered a staple food. Based on the 1972 Value-Added Tax (VAT) Act, staple foods are exempt from VAT due to their essential nature in providing nutrition for the nation.

So bread has a zero percent VAT on it in Ireland. You with us so far? Alright, let’s move on.

In order for a bread to count as “bread” under the VAT rules, it can only contain up to 2% sugar. According to Justice Donal O’Donnell, who presided over the Subway case, this is so that the staple food variety of bread is distinguished from “other baked goods made from dough”.

If you thought bread is bread, think again. There are rules, dangit!

Now, Subway was angry because back in 2006, the Irish Revenue Commissioners denied Bookfinders Ltd – the company that operates Subway in Ireland – a refund for VAT payments.

The company appealed, and the court battle has raged ever since. Until now.

The five-judge Supreme Court found that since Subway’s rolls have a sugar content of 10%, they are not eligible for the VAT exemption.

What’s more, the judges questioned whether the products are “bread” as we (or at least people in Ireland) know it at all.

“Because the Subway heated sandwiches, such as a hot meatball sandwich, did not contain ‘bread’ as defined, it could not be said to be ‘food’ for the purpose of the Second Schedule of the [1972] Act,’ Justice O’Donnell ruled.

Isn’t taxation just thrilling?

Yoga Mat Sandwich, Anyone?

While some might roll their eyes and consider the Court’s ruling a prime example of nitpicking, it’s actually sort of understandable. Based on nutrition facts released by Subway itself, their six-inch white bread roll contains 5g of sugar.

In more tangible terms, that’s the same as an Oreo cookie. Yeah, that might kinda-sorta undermine the “healthy option” message that Subway loves so much.

It’s not the first time Subway has been in the news because of some kind of a controversy. In 2015, the company’s spokesperson Jared Fogle – known from the firm’s ads as the man who lost weight due to Subway’s sugary sweet sandwiches – was arrested for possession of child pornography.

Granted, that’s got nothing to do with Subway’s sandwiches and all to do with him being a scumbag. But in 2014, Subway made headlines for an additive used in its bread.

As it turns out, back then Subway was using a chemical that goes by the appetizing name of azodicarbonamide. If you don’t know what that is, don’t feel bad.

But let us say that the chemical is also used in the production of things like yoga mats. Following a public backlash, Subway quickly announced that it would reformulate its breads not to contain azodicarbonaramarinara-… That chemical.

Now, in the name of fairness, the U.S. FDA has cleared the Yoga Mat chemical for food use. Additionally, Subway wasn’t alone in using it – fast food chains like McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Arby’s, Burger King, and Chick-fil-A all announced they’d stopped using the stuff after Subway caught all the flak.

Still, though, the public being what it is, none of these cases is good press for Subway. Let’s see what somebody finds in their bread… Sorry, “bread” next.

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