Earls backtracks on beef sourcing

Restaurant chain president says the chain plans to support Alberta beef after backlash

Canadian cattle producers who last week welcomed the Earls restaurant reversal to a plan to source beef from Kansas said it appears that those in charge at the restaurant did not do their homework ahead of the original announcement.

“Their original decision disappointed me, obviously, because to me they didn’t do their research properly,” said Mike Sears, a cattle producer and feedlot operator from Nanton, Alta.

“They didn’t do their homework.”

Earls initially said it couldn’t find enough product in Canada that met its specifications for “certified humane” beef that was also produced without the use of antibiotics or growth-promoting hormones.

It said the Kansas-based Creekstone Farms could provide the humane certification and the supply that it wanted.

That raised the ire of the Canadian cattle industry because they said it implies that cattle are not raised humanely in Canada.

“What is humane? Whose definition is that?” asked Sears.

Earls president Mo Jessa said in a May 4 interview that the plan to move away from Alberta and Canadian beef was a mistake.

“We will work very hard to restore our trust with Canadians and we will get Canadian beef back on Earls menu as long as it meets our criteria,” Jessa said.

He and other company officials met in Calgary last week with representatives of the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, Alberta Beef Producers and members of the Canadian Round Table on Sustainable Beef.

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Jessa said he was surprised by what he learned about current initiatives on cattle production and beef quality.

“There was some new information, a surprise absolutely. I think what this has taught me is that instead of just working with suppliers, I really have to be in touch with the producers themselves. They are a lot closer to what’s actually happening.

“I know once I met with them that, boy, have they ever come a long way. They are working on certification. I’m going to be right there with them to move that forward faster. As a partnership, we’ll be way better off.”

However, Earls is still not serving Canadian beef in its restaurants. Jessa said it will take time to source enough product in Canada that meets its specifications.

Rich Smith, executive director of ABP, said his organization will be watching to see how Earls follows through.

“We think it’s a good first step in the process of getting Canadian beef back into their restaurants,” said Smith about Earls’ change of heart.

“I think the next steps are that we need to see that they’ll fulfill their commitment.”

Smith said Canadian cattle are humanely raised but added there is no specific certification body that says so.

“If you call it Canadian beef or Alberta beef, it has been, in our view, sustainably raised,” Smith said. “But we haven’t got the assurance process in place yet. As far as the practices that are being used here, we strongly suggest that they are sustainable practices.”

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Veterinarian Dr. Roy Lewis said the Canadian Beef Cattle Code of Practice and work by the beef round table group are evidence of attention to humane cattle production.

“We maybe don’t have the exact program that (Earls) wanted but we’re on the track to one very similar,” said Lewis.

“I think we can be pretty proud in Canada that we’re doing things a lot ahead of the curve as far as humane handling goes.”

Smith also said Earls personnel were impressed with the code of practice, which was recently updated.

“We were quite confident that the code of practice would stand up to scrutiny,” Smith said.

Sears said he has no argument with Earls’ choice to seek beef from cattle never given antibiotics or additional hormones. It’s the implication it initially made about humane handling that rankled.

“The humane side of it, that’s a different story. You can’t draw a line in the sand and say that’s humane and that isn’t. The cow should be the one to tell you, not the human.”

Sears said his operation is open to anyone who wants to see for themselves how cattle are raised.

“Do I have time to take tour after tour? No, I wouldn’t want to do that, but am I afraid of that? Absolutely not. Anybody can come and look and see whatever they want to see.”

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