A Canadian Rancher’s Take on Earls’ Beef Campaign

Adrienne Ivey is a Canadian rancher, blogger, and mother. This post originally appeared on her blog The View from the Ranch Porch

Earls Kitchen and Bar has set the Canadian farming world all a-twitter.  The restaurant chain has recently launched a new marketing campaign promoting their latest development in beef  — “Certified Humane” raised without the use of antibiotics or added hormones and steroids.

I don’t (didn’t) mind Earls as a dining option. Up until now, they sourced their beef for their 56 Canadian restaurants here, in Canada. They have great summertime patios, and they make fantastic Caesars. Their head office is in Vancouver, and their first ever location was started in 1982 in Edmonton, Alberta. Sounds good, right? Then suddenly their marketing took a turn that just doesn’t sit right with me.

EArl's ad

Earls Restaurant’s marketing campaign

Their first words of their sourcing strategy label their beef as “Certified Humane,” which struck immediate warning bells for me. As a beef producer, I have had the opportunity to visit and tour MANY cattle farms. I can say, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the vast majority of Canadian Beef farms and ranches are raising their cattle in a humane way.

We are ranchers for a reason. We like working with animals every day. I have no issue with weeding out the “bad apples” that are bound to turn up in any industry, but these bad farmers are so uncommon, I cannot imagine the need to base your entire purchasing decision around them. I visited the label’s website and most specifically their producer page. On the page directed towards the farmers who would use their certification process, there was zero information on what they considered “humane”, zero mention of how becoming certified humane would benefit a farmer’s animals, zero mention of ways to make a farm more humane for its animals.

So what was the producer page for? Sales. It was touted as a way to sell more product. End of story. Andrew Campbell wrote an article for Real Agriculture about what exactly certified humane means… not much. To top this one off, Canada already has steps to make sure our animals are raised humanely. The Canadian Beef Code of Practices is something each and every one of us take pride in, something we follow because it is the right thing to do, not because we get paid more money for it.

So there’s that. I moved on a few words to “without the use of antibiotics”. This is perhaps the most terrifying marketing catch phrase in my mind. Why? Because this directly impacts animal welfare. I fully believe that healthy animals begin with prevention. The old adage “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” is completely true. The problem is that all sickness cannot be eradicated with prevention alone. Just like people, animals get sick sometimes — it’s a fact of life.

Finally, to the point of “no added hormones or steroids”. This I have spoken about many times. With the use of proven  safe methods, including hormones, Canadian farmers are now able produce MORE beef (32% more), while using significantly fewer resources (24% less land and 29% less breeding stock), and creating a significantly SMALLER environmental footprint (producing 15% less greenhouse gasses). I wrote about this HERE. Can we produce beef without hormone implants? Sure. But why choose to do less with more if it is a proven, safe, efficient method? To learn more about hormone use in beef read here or here.

To read the rest of this blog entry, which includes a discussion on Earls sourcing beef from outside of the country, click here.

One thought on “A Canadian Rancher’s Take on Earls’ Beef Campaign

  1. This situation is a perfect case study of the problems created when relying on market mechanisms, like certification, to address the externalities and problems of industrial food.

    Organic certification set a bar – recognized in legislation – for agriculture and food, codifying what had been a call to shift paradigms. The push for national standards came from the farmers and their customers both, because value had been built on these shared values, and less scrupulous parties were attaching the word “organic” to all kinds of products. Organic certification has long been seen by those of us involved in the movement as a stepping stone, and not an end goal.

    And once that label began to translate into growth and profits, everyone wanted a piece of the action, and all kinds of new “claims” are born (don’t even get me started on “natural”!)

    We have this problem today with Earl’s because everyone in the industrial food system has been perfectly happy to make up their own standards/ guidelines and responsible-sounding “monikers” and certifications…. “Certified Angus” …. “Humanely raised” …. “pesticide-free” …. “sustainably raised” ….. “Corn -fed” ….

    Earl’s can get what they want by buying ORGANIC beef. They are not prepared to increase their costs, and they miss the point: managing without hormones, antibiotics and steroids is more than a matter of simply dropping these from a production system. And that seems to be the conversation few want to have: the system of artificially low meat prices relies on production models with costly externalities many of which are not felt within the beef sector.

    And now when this arbitrary capitalization on customers’ desires for a real shift from industrial food production and the externalities upon which it relies is working against a subset of producers, folks are crying fowl.

    Alberta lost an opportunity to fulfill a market. The customer asked for steroid/ hormone free cattle. Trying to tell the customer they are wrong and your product is just fine the way it is is your business. But don’t be surprised when that business is then taken elsewhere.

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