Earls trumpets plan to serve only ‘Certified Humane’ beef, angering abandoned Alberta suppliers

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      The industry group representing Alberta’s cattle industry says it is disappointed with a decision by Earls restaurant chain to begin sourcing its beef from the U.S. instead of Canada.

      Rob McNabb — general manager of the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association — said while the Canadian beef industry might not have been able to meet Earls’ desired timeline for its new Certified Humane program, it is already doing much of what the restaurant chain says it is looking for.

      “We’re just not quite ready to provide the level of documentation they’re looking for,” McNabb said. “But our intent is to meet the market needs as quickly as we can and offer even a broader program.”

      Vancouver-based Earls announced Tuesday that it would become the first chain in North America to serve only Certified Humane beef — meaning beef raised without the use of antibiotics, steroids or added hormones, and slaughtered according to the specifications of animal welfare expert Dr. Temple Grandin.

      However, Earls — which uses more than two million pounds of beef each year — said it was unable to find a Canadian supplier that could meet the chain’s demand for the product. That means that beef served at Earls’ restaurants nationwide will no longer come from Canada, but from Kansas.

      The backlash from Canadians was immediate, with many taking to Twitter to declare their love for Alberta beef and urge an Earls boycott. Even politicians got into the act.

      Earls spokesperson Cate Simpson said in an email that the company had to decide what was more important — antibiotic free and Certified Humane, or Canadian.

      “We decided that Certified Humane was more important to us,” she said.

      While McNabb said he doesn’t believe the U.S. cattle industry is ahead of the Canadian industry when it comes to trying to meet consumer demand for ethically sourced food, he acknowledged that Canada doesn’t yet have a good certification system to communicate its efforts to customers.

      “I guess given the size of our industry versus the size of the industry in the U.S., it’s just a matter of them perhaps getting a little ahead of us on that type of documentation,” McNabb said.

      In 2014, a committee of beef industry and environmental leaders formed the Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef, dedicated to ensuring beef production in this country is environmentally sound, socially responsible and economically viable. The committee will try to define what sustainable means, then try to demonstrate to retailers and consumers that choosing Canadian beef is an ethical, environmentally responsible thing to do.

      McNabb said the work of the Roundtable will be critical if the Canadian beef industry wants to keep up with customer demand for ethically sourced product.

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