Editor’s note: This post was originally published on author Adrienne Ivey’s “View from the Ranch Porch” blog.
Earls Kitchen and Bar has set the Canadian farming world all a-twitter. The restaurant chain has recently launched a new marketing campaign promoting their latest development in beef — “Certified Humane” and raised without the use of antibiotics or added hormones and steroids.
I don’t (didn’t) mind Earls as a dining option. Up until now, they sourced their beef for their 56 Canadian restaurants here, in Canada. They have great summertime patios, and they make fantastic Caesars. Their head office is in Vancouver, and their first ever location was started in 1982 in Edmonton, Alberta. Sounds good, right? Then suddenly their marketing took a turn that just doesn’t sit right with me.
Their first words of their sourcing strategy label their beef as “Certified Humane”, which struck immediate warning bells for me. As a beef producer, I have had the opportunity to visit and tour MANY cattle farms. I can say, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the vast majority of Canadian Beef farms and ranches are raising their cattle in a humane way. We are ranchers for a reason – we like working with animals every day. I have no issue with weeding out the “bad apples” that are bound to turn up in any industry, but these bad farmers are so uncommon, I cannot imagine the need to base your entire purchasing decision around them. I visited the http://certifiedhumane.org website and most specifically their producer page. On the page directed towards the farmers who would use their certification process, there was zero information on what they considered “humane”, zero mention of how becoming certified humane would benefit a farmer’s animals, zero mention of ways to make a farm more humane for it’s animals. So what was the producer page for? Sales. It was touted as a way to sell more product. End of story. Andrew Campbell wrote an article for Real Agriculture about what exactly certified humane means… not much. To top this one off – Canada already has steps to make sure our animals are raised humanely. The Canadian Beef Code of Practices is something each and every one of us take pride in, something we follow because it is the right thing to do, not because we get paid more money for it.
So there’s that. I moved on a few words to “without the use of antibiotics”. This is perhaps the most terrifying marketing catch phrase in my mind. Why? Because this directly impacts animal welfare. I fully believe that healthy animals begin with prevention. The old adage “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” is completely true. The problem is that all sickness cannot be eradicated with prevention alone. Just like people, animals get sick sometimes, it’s a fact of life. Any program that rewards the decision to withhold medication has the potential to have a huge negative impact on animal welfare.
Last year, Subway in the USA announced it was going to start sourcing only meat raised without the use of antibiotics. There was an uproar from the agricultural community, explaining the need for (and ethics in using) antibiotics. Subway soon saw the error in their strategy, and reversed their decision. Perhaps Earls could learn something from this. I will stand by the fact that just as I would with my children, if an animal on our ranch falls ill, I will give it the necessary medicine. It would be cruel if I didn’t.
And finally, “no added hormones or steroids”. This I have spoken about many times. With the use of proven safe methods, including hormones, Canadian farmers are now able produce MORE beef (32% more), while using significantly LESS resources (24% less land and 29% less breeding stock), and creating a significantly SMALLER environmental footprint (15% less greenhouse gasses). I wrote about this HERE. Can we produce beef without hormone implants? Sure. But why choose to do less with more if it is a proven, safe, efficient method? To learn more about hormone use in beef, read here.
To top all of this information off, Earls has switched from using Canadian Beef to sourcing 100% of their beef from one operation (Creekstone Farms) in Kansas. While there is nothing wrong with that in itself, it does make me wonder about how consistent Earls’ quality of choice cuts, like steak, could possibly be. Many restaurants that serve top quality beef will go with a large supplier’s top label. Cargill, for example, has their Sterling Beef brand – which has quality specifications (marbeling, grade and aging) so high that under 12 percent of the beef through their plant is accepted. That is a HUGE amount of beef that is sorted through to choose only the best. If you are starting out with a much smaller number, your top percentage will reflect that. Even beef that was raised and fed the same will have large differences in quality – it is an issue within the beef industry.
I cannot understand why a restaurant like Earls would choose to limit their options in this way. Oh, and did I mention that said Creekstone Farms, while it has some feel-good marketing surrounding it, is actually owned by Sun Capital Partners. From their Twitter profile: Sun Capital Partners is a leading private investment firm focused on leveraged buyouts, private equity, debt and other investments in market-leading companies. Now don’t get me wrong, I firmly believe there is nothing wrong with outside investment in agriculture, just as much as I believe large farms can be as great as small farms, but that sentence (of truth) gives you a completely different feeling than their logo must intend.
So all of this makes me wonder. It makes me question when restaurants and retailers will start marketing their food based on true quality, not catchphrases and gimmicks. When will real, honest, good food win out? Because there is one thing I know about great steak – it speaks for itself.