During the past few weeks, Canadian cattle farmers and ranchers have been disgruntled as a popular restaurant chain, Earls Kitchen + Bar, made an announcement that it would begin sourcing its beef from a Kansas and program specializing in Certified Humane Beef products because Canadian beef sources could not supply its restaurants.
The initial reaction by many Canadians was disgust for the chain to source beef from outside their country when plenty of beef exists locally. My reaction, as a neighbor to the South and someone who works for a Calgary-based cattle marketing company, was the misperceptions portrayed by the ‘Certified Humane’ announcement. If beef served at Earls must have a ‘Certified Humane’ label, what does that say about the beef, and manner in which those cattle are raised, that the restaurant chain deems not good enough?
Canadian beef cattle farmers and ranchers, industry organizations and social media reached out to the restaurant chain, who has in turn reversed their sourcing policy by announcing intentions to work harder to supply Canadian and Alberta beef that meets its standards.
Here are a few links to read more on the story from different perspectives:
- Earls Makes the Shift to “Certified Humane” Beef – Real Agriculture
- Alberta beef industry ‘disappointed’ with Earls decision – Calgary Herald
- This Canadian Rancher’s Take on Earls’ Beef Campaign – Adrienne Ivey
- Earls Restaurants: Beef’s Identity Crisis – Dr. Sylvain Charlebois (LinkedIn)
- Earls Says “We Made a Mistake” – Real Agriculture
- What Earls dropping Alberta beef says about Alberta – CBC News
- Confusing the issues; the new marketing strategy for beef – Brad Wildeman (LinkedIn)
- Alberta Beef Producers statement on Earls news release
As expected, there have been a number of articles covering the news and expressing a variety of opinions on the approach. Bottom line – from my experience working with and meeting hundreds of beef cattle farmers and ranchers from the U.S. and Canada, I believe the vast majority consider animal welfare and handling of livestock properly to be a very important component of good business practices. These practices are reinforced and explained through the Beef Quality Assurance program (USA) and Canada’s Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Beef Cattle.
This news story and response is very reminiscent of actions following announcements by other restaurant chains including A&W Canada, Subway Restaurants and Chipotle Mexican Grill. Good for these restaurants and their marketing departments to make changes that follow adjusting consumer trends. On the other hand, we are often left asking why they didn’t do more to reach out to animal agriculture to investigate existing conventional animal management practice guidelines before making these announcements.
Maybe we should say shame on agriculture for not doing more to proactively reach out to restaurant chains and let them know about our conventional management standards.
I find myself at a crossroads, confused and unsure about where I stand on this subject. Consumers deserve to know that we hear their concerns and are working to address them. Conventional agriculture finds itself frustrated that consumers are not listening to standards that already exists. I want to say kudos to those farmers and ranchers who are adjusting to cater to these marketing programs, however, how far do we support these programs at the expense of misperceptions about conventional agriculture producers?
I want to be excited about new avenues in food and agriculture. At the same time, I’m very uncomfortable with how far we move that line that so it doesn’t do justice to the many conventional farmers and ranchers out here doing a magnificent job of raising animals and crops and taking care of our environment.
At the end of the day, I still have a gut feeling many labeling programs are pure marketing and do not do justice to convey the true work of the majority of farmers and ranchers out in the field, nor provide sufficient, accurate and meaningful information to our customers.
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