Despite a heavy social media backlash, a major Canadian restaurant chain isn’t backing down from a plan to source its beef from the U.S. because of its new humane meat policy.
A post on the Twitter account belonging to Earls Restaurants said, “This is really big. Earls is the first chain in North America to source all its beef from Certified Humane® farms.”
According to Earls’ website, while it has always used Canadian beef for its popular steak and hamburger items, its increasing commitment to “conscious sourcing” prompted the company to look for a Canadian producer who could supply it with Certified Humane beef. The chain’s website says it searched for months but was unable to find a suitable, federally-inspected Certified Humane® producer to meet its needs and decided to chose a supplier in Kansas for its beef.
The announcement created quite a buzz on social media and drew mixed reaction from representatives in the beef and cattle industry.
Tim Hoven operates a farm near Eckville, Alta. He said his cattle are raised with the same practices Earls is looking for, and his farm has been certified organic since 1997.
“When any chain says they’re going to look outside the province, I think that hurts a lot of people’s feelings,” Hoven said. “Earls is trying to differentiate their product from all the other chains and they think Certified Humane is the way to do it.”
“Alberta farmers are very entrepreneurial and very genius. If there’s a potential market, I believe it could be done today, let farmers know that they can make more profit by going that – and they will grow to meet that demand.”
Rob McNabb, general manager with the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, said he was unhappy with Earl’s decision.
“These programs are looking at specific production practices or the avoidance of specific production practices on a food safety level, on the science of analyzing what is in the product. I don’t think that these programs really can differentiate themselves.”
Alberta’s Wildrose party leader Brian Jean tweeted, “Disappointed to see @earlsrestaurant move away from Alberta Beef. Alberta farmers work hard to produce the best beef in the World.”
Alberta Premier Rachel Notley also tweeted that Alberta beef is “the best in the world” and she’s proud of the province’s producers.
Earls told Global News it was disappointed by some of the negative reaction to its announcement.
“It seems unfortunate that the Alberta Beef lobbyists are pushing this part of the story when that’s not the point of our transition,” Earls said in an e-mail. “The point is we transitioned to an animal welfare policy so it’s pretty disappointing that is not a resonating message, because it should be.”
A company spokesperson suggested that even if Earls is moving to a U.S. supplier for its beef, the restaurant chain still supports the Canadian and Albertan economies.
“Earls is a Canadian company, we support a lot of Canadian products, farmers and ranchers, we even take some of those Canadian ingredients to the U.S.,” Earls’ spokesperson Cate Simpson said in an email to Global News.
“We are a long-time employer in Alberta, employ thousands of young people there and support the culinary training programs offered at SAIT and NAIT through our red seal program.”
The company says it met with Dr. Temple Grandin, a well-known professor of animal science at Colorado State University, to help determine its needs. The chain’s new source has harvesting facilities that the restaurant says create a “low-stress environment” for cattle that ultimately leads to better-tasting food.
According to Earls’ website, Certified Humane® farms feature animals treated with “care, respect and dignity” and are regularly inspected to make sure animals are treated ethically and humanely.
Certified Humane is a certification and labeling program administered by American-based Humane Farm Animal Care. It is not connected to Health Canada or the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
All meat, poultry and fish products contain naturally occurring hormones produced by the animal. There is no such thing as hormone-free beef, even if the cow was raised organically.
In Canada, growth hormones are only approved for use in cows used for beef, according to Dietitians of Canada. Added hormones are not allowed in milk-producing cows, or in poultry and pork production.
Growth hormones help to produce leaner beef at a lower cost to both producers and consumers, by helping cows convert the food they eat into muscle more efficiently. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency enforces the use of added hormones in the beef industry. According to the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association and Beef Information Centre, the level of synthetic hormones that can be left in beef after slaughter is zero.
While Earls said it was seeking beef “raised without antibiotics,” the Certified Humane program does allow for the use to antibiotics in certain situations.
The Certified Humane beef cattle standards do not allow for antibiotics that promote growth or feed efficiency, however “antibiotics can be used in individual cattle only therapeutically (i.e. disease treatment) as directed by a veterinarian.”
New Health Canada regulations, the first of which will come into effect at the end of this year, crack down on using antimicrobials to promote animal growth and require anyone wanting to put antibiotics in their animals’ food or water to do so under veterinary oversight.
Public health researchers and epidemiologists say these steps are long overdue and badly needed to combat the spectre of antimicrobial resistance as more and more bugs are becoming immune to the lifesaving drugs we use to treat them.
“We did intensive research and testing for over two years trying to use a Certified Humane beef from Alberta, raised without antibiotics, steroids or growth hormones, of which there are some great suppliers in Alberta – and we did use it in our Edmonton and Calgary locations as well as our Flagship locations across Canada for well over two years,” Earls Culinary
Development team told Global News in an e-mail.
“However, there was (and is) simply not enough in Alberta to meet the volume we use and those we tried were unable to consistently meet our supply needs, not even a portion of it.”
Earls was started by the Fuller family in Edmonton, Alta. The first restaurant – Earls Tin Palace – was opened in 1982 on Jasper Avenue, where it remains today. It began as a burgers and beer joint, but transformed over the years into upscale casual dining.
With files from Anna Mehler Paperny, Melissa Ramsay Phil Heidenreich and Karen Bartko from Global News