Earls restaurants draws fire over new certified beef policy

The chain, with 66 locations in Canada and the United States announced it is the first restaurant chain in North America to serve Certified Humane Beef that is also raised without the use of antibiotics or growth promoting hormones. Earls announced this policy was a mistake on May 4. | Michael Raine photo illustration

The company says its marketing plan is designed to appeal to socially conscious consumers, while Canadian beef producers say their animals are being raised humanely

A tempest has blown across Canadian beef farms following the Earls Restaurants decision to buy American.

The chain, with 66 locations in Canada and the United States announced it is the first restaurant chain in North America to serve Certified Humane Beef that is also raised without the use of antibiotics or growth promoting hormones.

That move sparked outcries from Canadian beef producers because that meat comes from Creekstone Farms in Arkansas City, Kansas.

Earls turned to the United States because it needs about two million pounds of beef per year and had difficulty getting enough Canadian beef to meet its specifications.

“There was (and is) simply not enough certified humane, antibiotic, steroid free beef in Alberta to meet the volume we use and those we tried were unable to consistently meet our supply needs, not even a portion of it,” said Earls spokesperson Cate Simpson in an email.

The company marketing plan, Commitment to Conscious Sourcing is designed to appeal to socially conscious consumers, but it raised the ire of beef producers and their supporters who called for a boycott of Earls campaign on social media.

“Though I understand the job of the Alberta beef lobbyists is to lobby for their product, it seems unfortunate that they are distorting what is really good news for animal welfare,” said Simpson.

Earls also promotes its use of sustainable fish, organic maple syrup and vegetables, as well as free range chicken and eggs from cage free establishments.

The company said if Canadians could supply the beef, it would reconsider its procurement policies.

Earls also said it wants an animal care program that follows the systems designed by animal behaviourist Temple Grandin.

Ron Davidson of the Canadian Meat Council said those already exist in Canada.

Canadian producers and processors follow Canadian Food Inspection Agency requirements for humane transportation, handling and slaughter requirements. These requirements are specified in the federal Meat Hygiene Manual of Procedures and reflect the Grandin principles, he wrote in an email.

Rob McNabb of the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, said Canadian beef producers were disappointed over the announcement.

“We are making efforts to move towards being able to provide specific attributes that end users want, not just one size fits all by any means. We are a little disappointed that these keep jumping out ahead and do not give us a chance to see what we can do,” he said.

Earls is not a member of the Canadian Round Table on Sustainable Beef where members are working toward providing a set of attributes focusing on economic, environmental and social aspects of beef production. These include animal welfare components.

“Had they been involved there we would have had some forewarning,” he said.

Alberta Beef Producers also responded, pointing out that animal protection regulations are in place and the code of practice for the care and handling of beef cattle addresses animal welfare.

“The regulations, codes, and verification processes we have developed are primarily intended to demonstrate and record the responsible production practices that have been in place for years,” said the news release.

There are individual beef operations with humane certification, although many are on a smaller scale.

Tyler and Rachel Herbert of Trails End Beef near Nanton, Alta., earned the designation of Animal Welfare Approved after 10 years of marketing grassfed beef.

“We wanted to add some authenticity to our product and something that could be third party verified for any customers who were interested,” she said.

The process was thorough and required considerable paperwork. The auditor checked the ranch, the cattle, water supplies, feed, shelter and handling.

“Our whole intention has been to connect with people and be so transparent about how their beef is raised. For us, it won’t change our game at all,” Rachel said.

As a direct marketer, she has learned people want to know the story of the beef they buy.

Earls beef will be supplied by Creekstone, owned by investment company Sun Capital Partners. It offers two U.S. Department of Agriculture certified beef programs for its premium black Angus beef and natural beef, as well as approval from Certified Humane program based in Virginia.

It is a labelling and certification program from the Humane Farm Animal Care program founded in 2003 and offers independent audits of livestock farms and processors.

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