Earls Certified Humane Beef Highlights Concern About Marketing Labels

Earls Kitchen and Bar Canadian BeefDuring 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:

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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  1. Ryan, I think I’m just as bamboozled on where I sit as you are- My gut capitalist reaction is that all Canadian producers should be attempting to follow the example of our southern neighbours, and ensuring that we have programs to market our animals at a premium. The animal scientist comes screaming back with the argument that education is key, and proper education of the consumer would likely eliminate the market for many niche programs like Certified Humane, because people would be “in the know,” you know? Finally, the pessimist in me wants to give up and throw my computer, cancel my twitter and blog, and eschew all non-ag-media while rocking myself in the fetal position. What more can we do? How much louder can we be? How many more blog posts, Facebook pages, twitter feeds, farm invitations, conferences and invitational speakers can one industry possibly put out?
    At the end of the day, I’m glad that Earl’s decided that the consumer was correct. I think this has also been a valuable opportunity for the beef industry to be extremely vocal and open about the way we do things here in Canada, and I think we executed that response very well. From where I sat, I even witnessed several farmers, including myself heading off the whole “Halal is being forced down our throats because Earl’s president is Muslim” conspiracy theory. Where do we go from here, though? How do we maintain this momentum, without a “reason”? That remains to be seen, and hopefully we can figure it out before all the hubbub dies down.
    Always enjoy your posts!

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