Friday, April 29, 2016

Earls decision a 'slap in the face' for Alberta ranchers, but some experts say Canadian beef industry dropped the ball

As the reaction from a decision by the Earls restaurant chain to begin sourcing its beef from the U.S. instead of Canada continued to rile Albertans, experts say the move should be a wake-up call for the Canadian beef industry. Supporters of Alberta’s ranchers and feedlot operators continued to take to social media on Thursday to urge a boycott of the Vancouver-based chain, which announced this week it would be buying beef from Kansas instead of Alberta as part of its new commitment to serving only Certified Humane beef. Earls, which uses more than 900,000 kilograms of beef per year, was looking for a supplier that could provide it with a consistent supply of beef free of antibiotics and steroids, and slaughtered according to criteria set by animal welfare advocate Temple Grandin.
“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 spokeswoman Cate Simpson in an email. The chain’s decision quickly drew the ire of Alberta beef producers, many of whom felt insulted by the Earls announcement. Bob Lowe, who operates a ranch near Nanton, said he took it as a “slap in the face.” “I’d like to challenge anyone from Earls to come out to our operation and show us what we’re doing wrong,” said Lowe. “To insinuate that cattle producers, feedlot operators, anybody who works with livestock of any kind in Canada is not looking after animals humanely . . . Well, that really hurts.” Lowe said he was frustrated by Earls’ implication that there is something wrong with the use of growth hormones, which he said actually make cattle ranching more environmentally friendly by allowing producers to raise more beef with less water and fewer acres of land.
But University of Saskatchewan assistant professor Eric Micheels — who specializes in bioresource policy, business, and economics — said he doesn’t believe Earls is saying there is anything wrong with Canadian beef production practices and animal welfare standards. Rather, he said the chain’s decision to source elsewhere is an indication that the Canadian industry has underestimated consumers’ desire to know more about the food they eat. “Agriculture groups, in general, have been very reactive to this type of shift in consumer preferences,” Micheels said. “They are slower to respond than firms in other industries.”...more

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