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Is Alberta beef inhumane?

Earls says it won't be serving Alberta beef because it couldn't find enough Certified Humane® beef in the province. What does that mean?

Apr 28, 2016

by Elizabeth Hames

AAA beef not the only Albertan meat

Order a steak at any one of Earls’ Alberta restaurants, and the beef you dig into won’t come from one of the province’s many ranches, but all the way from Kansas. Earls is now serving what it calls 100% Certified Humane® Beef at all its 66 restaurants, and the B.C.-based company says it just couldn’t find enough Alberta beef to supply even its restaurants in Edmonton and Calgary, let alone its entire chain.

But does that mean Alberta beef is inhumane? The answer really comes down to semantics.

“The danger is people inferring that its the small ‘c’, small ‘h’ certified humane, and that’s really not the case,” says Rob McNabb with the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association. “It’s the terminology, it’s the understanding of what that means that’s a bit of a problem.”

That’s because, when Earls says its beef is Certified Humane®, it is referring to a registered trademark (as indicated by the little ‘R’ next to the phrase in the company’s marketing materials for the campaign). And that trademark belongs to a U.S.-based non-profit called Humane Farm Animal Care, which is not affiliated with any government. The certification organization has come up with a set of standards it says qualifies as humane treatment, such as a wholesome diet that excludes growth promoters, access to clean drinking water, continual access to the outdoors, access to shade, and slaughter systems designed to ensure animals don’t experience unnecessary stress or discomfort. Antibiotics are permitted on a case-by-case basis, as directed by a veterinarian. To achieve certification, companies must comply with the organization’s standards and pass an inspection.

There are currently no Canadian beef producers on Humane Farm Animal Care’s list of certified producers, which would explain why Earls couldn’t find any Certified Humane® beef in Alberta.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t producers in Alberta that meet the standards set out by Humane Farm Animal Care (apart from the inspection).

“The humane treatment of animals is just a daily fact for cattle producers,” McNabb says. “The well-being of animals is the business their in.”

But McNabb says many producers probably weren’t even aware of the certification program, or the company’s plan to source all of its beef from producers that have won the certification. Earls says it had been in talks with Alberta producers for the past two years as it searched for a supplier. But McNabb says the company never spoke with the cattlemen’s association or Alberta Beef Producers.

If they had, McNabb says he would have told Earls the association is working on an expansion of its verified beef program that would achieve a similar standard for humane treatment as that of Humane Farm Animal Care.

“We’re working on a program that will provide audit verification of production practices that actually meet a broader spectrum of sustainability,” McNabb says. “Animal care is just one component of it.”

However, McNabb admits the verification expansion is still a work in progress, and wouldn’t likely require producers to raise their cattle without antibiotics or hormones, which Earls now requires of all the beef it serves.

“That’s a business decision that individual producers will make,” he says. “But working with the packer, working with the distributor and obviously with the end user, those arrangements could be made.”

Earls Boycott

Earls’s decision to take Alberta beef off the menu has prompted backlash online, and a the hashtag #BoycottEarls was trending on Twitter in Edmonton, where the chain got its start.

Many outraged consumers have been leaving messages on the company’s Facebook page, suggesting they will not eat at the restaurant unless Earls serves Canadian beef.

Farmers have also been leaving messages on the Facebook page, arguing that their beef is humane, even if it may lack the Certified Humane® label.

One Response to Is Alberta beef inhumane?

  1. Barry Farquharson says:

    As a ‘city slicker’ with no cattle raising background, even I know that ‘stress kills’, or at the very least, negatively impacts the meat products that the producers work very hard to deliver to us at all levels. Proper/humane treatment of animals that form an important part of our food chain is just plain good business practice for everyone involved in the process. You can bet that Alberta beef is humanely produced – it is in the best interest of everyone involved in the process to ensure this. Earl’s decision is curious, and definitely a slap in the face for the Alberta beef industry. ‘Sloganeering’ in order to jump on a bandwagon that appeals to a
    their client base will have a very mixed reaction – the impact on their business in Alberta may end up counter to intentions. Include me in the group now reviewing my dining out options regarding their establishments.