Imagine Subway buns, but when you cut them open they’re cake.
The viral “everything is cake” meme became an awkward reality in Ireland this week, where the nation’s Supreme Court ruled that Subway’s buns were too sugary to meet the country’s legal definition of bread.
The decision stemmed from a franchisee’s appeal that Subway “bread” is a staple food, and thus should be exempt from a Value-Added Tax (VAT).
A panel of five judges dismissed the appeal on Wednesday, affirming that Subway bread is not legally bread because its sugar content is five times the qualifying limit under law.
The ruling is based on Ireland’s Value-Added Tax Act of 1972, which sets definitions for various types of baked goods. For something to be considered bread, the weight of fat and sugar in the dough should not exceed two per cent of the weight of the flour.
The court found Subway’s white and whole wheat “bread” failed to meet the criteria because the sugar weight was around 10 per cent. The sugar content bumped Subway buns into the confectionary category, which is subject to a 13.5 per cent VAT.
The ruling ends a 14-year court battle for Brookfinders Ltd., the Subway franchisee at the heart of the case.
Foot-long Subway buns contain at least six grams of sugar, according to the company’s nutritional information. The sweetest type of “bread” on the menu, the nine-grain honey oat, has 10 grams of sugar, while the gluten-free bread contains 14 grams of sugar.
“Subway’s bread is, of course, bread,” a Subway spokesperson said in a statement. “We have been baking fresh bread in our restaurants for more than three decades and our guests return each day for sandwiches made on bread that smells as good as it tastes.”
The company is reviewing the complete ruling in the case, which was brought to the court before the decades-old VAT rules were updated in 2012.
It’s not the first time Subway has taken flak for the ingredients in its food. The company removed a flour whitening agent from its baked goods in 2014 after a petition highlighted that the ingredient was also used in yoga mats. That whitening agent is currently banned from food in Australia and Europe, The Guardian reports.
Subway also lost a court battle over its ingredients with CBC, after the broadcaster reported that some of Subway’s supposedly “100 per cent chicken” products contained significant amounts of soy protein. Chicken strips were found to have only 42.8 per cent chicken DNA, CBC reported.
A judge tossed out Subway’s $210-million lawsuit last December.