Food outlet A&W is updating its image and a key component is a campaign touting its “pure beef guarantee.”
The company, the second largest burger chain in Canada, says it will buy only from ranches that raise beef without added hormones or steroids and use antibiotics only for therapeutic purposes. Its beef will have no additives or preservatives.
A&W’s website introduces readers to the ranchers in Canada, the United States and Australia. All appear to be excellent, progressive producers.
Success in the burger business requires innovative marketing. Fast food chains are in the commodity business, all selling similar products: ground beef, chicken, French fries and sugary drinks.
They once differentiated themselves with catchy jingles and cartoon character mascots but now have more sophisticated lifestyle marketing programs.
Criticized for contributing to obesity, environmental degradation and animal suffering, they are responding with healthier menus, welfare and environmental codes and other initiatives to connect with sophisticated consumers.
The issue with A&W’s campaign, as the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association and others have noted, is that by scientific measure A&W’s “better” beef is no more healthy or safe than other Canadian beef.
The CCA noted that antimicrobials and growth promoters have been used for decades, are approved by Health Canada and there is no scientific proof that they harm animals or humans.
“No matter the brand or method of production, when consumers buy Canadian beef they can be confident they are buying the finest beef available,” said the CCA.
Ranchers and feedlots use these products primarily for economic reasons. Treated animals use feed more efficiently, growing quickly to larger carcass sizes that produce more revenue for the producer.
And because the products reduce the feed and water used and greenhouse gases produced per pound of beef, they also provide environmental benefits.
But the debate over growth promoters in beef production goes far beyond a particular burger chain’s advertising.
The use of hormones in cattle has long been a trade issue with Europe, which bans their use because of human health concerns although the results of World Trade Organization challenges show the concern is unfounded.
The Ontario Medical Association recently called for a ban on antibiotics in livestock feed, saying the practice contributes to drug resistant infections in humans. The livestock industry replied with studies showing the practice doesn’t contribute significantly to the problem.
Another controversy focuses on another type of growth promoter called beta-agonists. Russia, China and the European Union won’t import meat from livestock treated with the products and a major U.S. packer, Tyson will no longer accept animals treated with one of the products, Zilmax, because of concerns related to lameness and stress in hot weather.
The maker, Merck, says its evidence shows the product is safe, but has stopped marketing it while an independent panel determines if the welfare concerns are legitimate.
While the scientific studies pile up, most consumers likely ignore them, making their buying decisions on price, convenience, emotion, personal ethical codes and world views.
The best that food producers can do is to continue to pursue a scientific basis for their practices, even if the foundation seems set in shifting sand.
Following science-based best practices helps ensure food safety and enhances food producers’ own brand image, em-phasizing the industry’s sincerity and commitment to do the right thing .
We hope that food retailers realize this when they design their promotions and when they stake their ground they shouldn’t imply other food is unsafe .
Bruce Dyck, Terry Fries, Barb Glen, D’Arce McMillan and Joanne Paulson collaborate in the writing of Western Producer editorials.