Can Restaurants Lead Ag Education? Truth in Marketing Would be a Start



When it comes to meat, poultry is continuing to see big demand across the country, largely because of  our appetite for chicken. The Canadian Meat Council says that in 2010 the average Canadian ate almost 16 kilograms of poultry compared to 13 kg of beef and 12 kg of pork. Moving forward, poultry demand will rise as the industry expects we’ll each consume an average of over 18 kg by 2020, to go along with a slight drop in beef consumption and a slight rise in the amount of pork we eat.

With all that demand for chicken, the wrestling begins as to who has the best product, and like a lot of other foods today, marketing is taking out the element of education and throwing in confusion with a short term goal of simply selling a little more.

First off, a note on chicken production in Canada (and North America for that matter). Growth hormones are not used in poultry production; they are against not approved for use. In fact, in Canada they haven’t been allowed since the ’60s. To think that the rumour of hormone use continues to float around 50 years later is quite amazing, until you start reading a label.

The bottom of the Cactus Club Café’s menu

Enter Cactus Club Café. It’s a restaurant chain I hadn’t come across before a trip to Vancouver in which I found myself eyeing a spot for lunch. A note on the bottom of their menu caught my eye.  At the time I tweeted my concerns and this label and how it led to confusion about production practices. I was happy to hear back from the restaurant saying they’d take it to a menu meeting as something to look at. That was a few months ago and when I checked in again a representative from a public relations agency said they’d pass my comments on to executives at the chain. I stated I was actually looking for them to comment for this article. I haven’t heard back.

The idea that rumours of farm production practices that don’t exist is unfortunate, but to have someone keep pushing that rumour with a label like ‘Hormone-Free’ is even more aggravating. To think that Cactus Club Café is the only offender isn’t true – but they do go a step further by actually giving false information. They state their chicken is hormone free. Hormone free is impossible to accomplish in living things, seeing as we all produce hormones as a necessary function of living. Chatting with Chicken Farmers of Canada, the organization that represents chicken farmers, they say it actually is a line that can’t be true. The Poultry Site offers a great explanation on the natural hormones that exist in chicken, as well as offers some other ideas on why a label on hormones is even necessary, again given the fact that these products have been banned for over a generation.

Such a broad and false statement had me wondering if the Canadian Food Inspection Agency would approve, given they are in charge of managing labeling claims. A response back on the issue of labels pointed me to a couple of draft documents on recently updated standards. It’s a good read, and points specifically to this issue.

“Products cannot be labelled as “hormone free” as it may mislead consumers to believe that the meat in question does not contain any hormones. All meat, poultry and fish products contain naturally occurring hormones, which makes the claim “hormone-free” inaccurate.”

The other two pieces of the Cactus Club’s chicken label fascinate me too. Free-run chicken, for instance, is the standard. Chicken Farmers of Canada don’t even have a classification for free-run, because it is how all birds are produced. The only label they have is ‘Free-Range’ which calls for more space outdoors, but then again based on the ‘Hormone-Free’ label, the chain seems more interested in making their chicken sound very feel-good and superior, when it meets every high standard that every other chicken breast in the country can claim, too. Too bad education didn’t sell as well as misrepresented superiority.

I’d invite Cactus Club Café to voluntarily remove this misleading and false statement and instead make a donation to a farm and food education group like the national Farm & Food Care Foundation and state that on their menu instead

And then there is the grain-fed claim. The majority of chicken in Canada is produced with a diet that consists of 88% grain. The interesting piece is about 10% comes from protein sources like meat and bone meal. Given that chickens are omnivores and would eat away at worms and bugs when given the chance, Chicken Farmers of Canada say this protein source is critical to their development. Does Cactus Club Café call this grain-fed, or is it 100% grain fed? Unfortunately because they didn’t want to comment, we can’t be sure.

Maybe instead of differentiating a product when a difference doesn’t exist, restaurants should start taking the lead on actually helping people learn about food production. I’d invite Cactus Club Café to voluntarily remove this misleading and false statement and instead make a donation to a farm and food education group like the national Farm & Food Care Foundation and state that on their menu instead. Take the lead on improving information, rather than further muddying the water.

If you aren’t impressed with misleading or outright false claims, I’d invite you to let them know on Twitter @CactusClubCafe or find them on Facebook. Even offer meaningful suggestions as to how they might be able to improve or make it up.

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