Turns out beef isn’t always better from the other side.
Earls announced Wednesday it has backtracked a recent decision to switch from using Canadian beef to Certified Humane from the U.S.
The move sent many into a furor on social media last week, and saw #boycottearls trending for hours.
“We moved to a U.S. supplier as we thought they could supply all of our needs. It was a mistake not to include Canadian beef,” Earls President Mo Jessa, Earls told CKOM News Wednesday.
At the time, Earls defended its decision with a spokesperson telling CKOM their team worked closely with producers in Alberta for three years, but ultimately couldn’t find enough supply to meet their demand.
“We know that Canadian cattle are being raised humanely, that’s not a question in our mind,” corporate communications manager Cate Simpson said on April 29.
However, the chain propped Certified Humane beef up by saying it goes a few steps further – not only are the cows cared for in a respectful manner; they are also raised without antibiotics, steroids and added growth hormones.
“We made a decision to offer our customers beef that has never been treated with antibiotics or growth hormones that meets specific, audited standards for animal care. We stand by that decision,” a statement on the Earls website Wednesday read.
Debate raged last week about how the decision positioned Alberta beef, with many saying it implied ethical standards in the country are not up to par. Jessa clarified it was not Earls’ intention to question the standards in Canada.
“Canadian beef is some of the best beef in the world, and ethical standards are right here at home, but there was just not enough of a single-sourced supply,” he said.
Jessa explained the Canadian chain, which has 67 locations, simply wanted to go with one supplier.
“I’m afraid we took the easy way out,” he said.
The commitment back to Canadian beef isn’t necessarily an all-or-nothing; the chain said it will “source as much beef as possible” from Alberta.
Jessa said he would love to see only Canadian beef in the chain someday, adding it’s a cheaper option to out-sourcing, but said it’s more likely there will always be a mixed supply.
“It’s going to take a lot more effort in Canada; it’s going to take a lot more of a coalition effort to work with industry to get more of a (steady) supply in Earls from Canadian sources,” he said.
Beef producer Adrienne Ivey, who raises cattle near Ituna, Sask. said she views Earls decision as a good first step.
“To say that Earls has reversed their decision would be a bit of a stretch. All they’ve done is open the door to Canadian beef,” she said.
Ivey said she was left thankful for the support for Canadian beef that erupted on social media over the last week. But, she said she hopes companies don’t feel intimidated.
“I hope that this encourages them when they are making these decisions and coming out with these broad statements that they are having conversations with the Canadian beef industry,” she said.
Ryder Lee, CEO of the Saskatchewan Cattlemen’s Association, said he remains disappointed that Earls didn’t backtrack further, specifically on claims of using ‘humane’ beef and on beef being free of added growth hormones.
“I’m still unhappy with the term ‘humane.’ I don’t like that being in marketing. I think it suggests so many different things to so many different people, and we’ve seen that in this discussion,” he said.
Lee said he had no doubt that if enough chains like Earls push demand for beef raised without extra hormones, Canadian producers would be able to step up and provide it. But he said such a decision comes with consequences.
“When you take out some of the tools that we can use in modern agriculture, that means you need more land, more water. That means you produce more waste per unit of food produced. All of those things aren’t cool these days,” he said.