Posted By: Jesse Williams
I am sure you have heard about the urban/rural divide that is occurring in Alberta recently with the current NDP government. This divide was further widened last week when the Vancouver based chain of Earls Restaurants announced they would now only serve "certified humane" beef sourced from Kansas in their restaurants. Ranchers in Canada felt this was a stab in their back and immediately rushed to the defense of our safe, ethical, world-renowned beef by flooding social media with the #boycottearls hashtag and examples of their excellent production facilities and methods. Well, it turns out Earls was listening (sort of) because Wednesday they announced (on radio) that they would be reversing their decision to source beef from the US and would work with Canadian ranchers to source as much beef as possible from north of the border. I would like to note that this new announcement about Canadian sourcing is not currently on their webpage, while the "certified humane" is.
So Why Aren't Canadian Ranchers Gloating?
Did we win the 'war' with Earls? They did reverse their decision and are now committing to serve Canadian beef products, but I don't feel we won the war- the battle maybe, but not the war. Regardless, you won't hear Canadian ranchers gloating. You won't hear us saying 'Ha, in your face Earls!' And you won't hear us cursing their name. Why? Don't we have every right to?
Maybe so. However, ranchers, particularly those who to choose to produce beef conventionally, are used to it. We are used to defending our ways of life, our superior, safe products and our methods of handling livestock. We are faced with the challenge of educating consumers every single day. It's no secret that consumers are becoming more conscious of their food, where it comes from, how its produced and how it impacts the environment. And marketing companies know this well. They are constantly using catch phrases, buzz words and trademarks to fear monger these production-conscious consumers into buying their overpriced products. The infamous A&W campaigns about steroid and antibiotic free beef are a prime example. All beef in Canada is steroid and antibiotic free due to the mandatory withdrawal periods that all cattle must meet before being slaughtered, and our strict government inspectors do a great job ensuring it is so. However, that doesn't stop consumers from assuming all beef that isn't labeled as antibiotic and steroid free is somehow less safe, less nutritious or less of a product.
So the fact that Earls decided to flip flop their decision on American beef (from a single supplier) to now purchase Canadian beef (from multiple sources) should be a win for us, right? While we probably should be jumping for joy, Canadian beef producers are doing what they do best- working hard and being humble about it. We face the scrutiny of uninformed consumers breathing down our necks daily. We run into people on social media who target our accounts, harass us and type obscenities at us. We deal with people face-to-face that tell us we are wrong, mean and cruel. We hear it all. All the time. But because of the cloth we're cut from, we don't yell back. We keep trudging along, trying to educate consumers respectfully. We spend thousands of dollars to upgrade our handling systems, to participate in province and nation wide production programs that inspect and certify our operations. We spend countless hours, time and money voluntarily going to training sessions, conferences and seminars to increase our knowledge of sustainability. We sit on commissions, boards and volunteer groups to get our messages to the public. We open our farms and ranches up to consumers to visit at their leisure.
So while we did make great progress in convincing a very public company to believe in the safety and ethical production of our beef, we as ranchers know that we have a lot further to go. We didn't win the war, we only won one small battle. It's in our nature to work hard, never give up and always treat everyone (people and animals alike) with the utmost respect. So we will continue to persevere just like we always have. We will continue to work our fingers to the bones for livestock we love and products we believe in. This is why you won't see Canadian ranchers gloating about Earls' decision to produce our beef. This is why some Canadian ranchers will choose to work with Earls in the future, go through their "certification" process and prove to the company and their consumers that we are producing livestock humanely.
While I certainly have strong negative opinions about their antibiotic and steroid free statements, their use of a registered trademark to "certify" producers to their random standards and prevent any other company from ever using the same catch phrase, their complete lack of consultation with Canadian beef producers and their blatant lies about that fact, I will continue to be proud of our Canadian beef producers for holding their heads high and staying respectful during this restaurant chain's marketing rollercoaster of decisions. I just hope they act as an example to other restaurants and beef buyers that Canadian beef, whether conventionally produced, organic, grass fed, natural, etc is held to the most strict standards of quality and livestock care. And we as ranchers won't stop working hard to prove it.
Thank you fellow ranchers for showing the world the faces behind their burgers. We are people too!
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