Beef sector looks at how to satisfy shoppers

While social media implies consumers demand hormone and antibiotic-free meat, some meat buyers say it’s not an issue — yet

CALGARY — The rows of steaks, roasts and hamburger in the grocery store meat case are near the end of the beef food chain. But what does that final link, the consumer, want from the array?

They want it free of added hormones, for one thing, says former Costco merchandising manager Claude Gravel.

“Hormone-free beef, it’s a big one,” Gravel said about consumer concerns regarding meat. “People are scared to hell about hormones in their product.”

During the recent Canadian Beef Industry Conference, Gravel emph-asized that he no longer speaks for Costco.

However, after 43 years in the meat industry, he has seen the need for changes.

Other countries produce beef without the use of growth-promoting hormones, he said. The same should be possible in Canada, whether as a niche or on a larger scale.

“Customers are asking a lot of questions about the hormones and antibiotics, but they don’t really understand. And even if we have the scientific data to tell them it’s safe, it’s good, it’s nice and it’s great,” consumers increasingly don’t trust the science.

Bryan Gudjonson, director of fresh meat for Save-On-Foods, said the issue of added hormones in beef is all over social media but otherwise it’s not a factor.

Not yet, anyway.

“I don’t hear a lot of customers calling and asking me personally about it. There probably is a bit of a movement where eventually we’re going to have to offer something like that, but right now I don’t hear a lot about that.”

Growth enhancing technology in the form of added hormones in feeder cattle has been proven to improve feed efficiency and average daily gain.

Less feed means a lower environmental footprint. Higher gains mean more beef can be produced with fewer animals.

A June report from the Beef Cattle Research Council said hormonal implants provided an increase of 14 percent in average daily gain and improved feed to gain by almost nine percent.

The report acknowledged consumer concern, as well as the European Union’s trade barriers against beef produced using added hormones.

“There is currently no Canadian estimate to demonstrate the po-tential impact of the loss (of growth enhancing technology), as well as the potential impact from their elimination in terms of increased EU trade and consumer willingness to purchase,” read the BCRC priority area review on feed grains and feed efficiency.

“There is also a need for a national technology transfer program aimed at the public that promotes their safety, environmental, economic, production and societal benefits. Research that looks at the alternative products or management methods is also needed.”

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