The Vancouver-based restaurant chain Earls caused a stir in Alberta after announcing it will begin using Certified Humane beef in the U.S. instead of Canadian beef in a bid to increase its “conscious sourcing” of food.
The company said it tried to source beef from Alberta, but there wasn’t enough of a specific product to meet their supply needs.
“We did intensive research and testing for over two years trying to use a Certified Humane beef from Alberta, raised without antibiotics, steroids or growth hormones, of which there are some great suppliers in Alberta — and we did use it in our Edmonton and Calgary locations as well as our Flagship locations across Canada for well over two years,” Earls culinary development team told Global News in an e-mail.
“However, there was (and is) simply not enough in Alberta to meet the volume we use and those we tried were unable to consistently meet our supply needs, not even a portion of it.”
But what does moving to Certified Humane really mean?
The “Certified Humane Raised and Handled” program is a certification and labelling program administered by American-based Humane Farm Animal Care. It is not connected to Health Canada or the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
Certified Humane beef is raised without the use of antibiotics, steroids or added hormones, and slaughtered according to the specifications of animal welfare expert Dr. Temple Grandin. However, while the standards don’t permit antibiotics for growth or feed efficiency, they can be used “therapeutically (i.e. disease treatment) as directed by a veterinarian.”
READ MORE: What’s Canada’s plan for animal antibiotics?
Adele Douglass, the executive director at Humane Farm Animal Care, said she started the program to help both animals and farmers.
“I started the program to improve the lives of farm animals and food production. I thought the market solution was the best because consumers want to know animals have been raised and slaughtered humanely,” Douglass told Global News
Douglass said one of the most important aspects of Certified Humane is that farms require third-party auditing from one of their experts. She said each inspection costs C$2,200 with $600 being charged to the farmer, and can be divided among several farms if they are in close proximity.
She noted that Humane Certified products are already sold widely in Canada, including at the Quebec-based pork producer DuBreton.
Sylvain Charlebois, a professor of agriculture at Dalhousie University, said the move towards more humane or sustainable beef is about companies trying to combat the negative “social connotations of consuming beef.”
“Beef is going through an identity crisis,” Charlebois said. “More and more people are concerned about the sustainability of beef production and cattle production. They are trying to label the commodity in different ways.”
Charlebois pointed to A&W as another example of a company that shifted its supply to Montana and Australia to get the kind of beef they are looking for.
Earls uses more than two million pounds of beef a year, and Charlebois said many consumers believe there is “no such thing as sustainable beef” given the environmental impact, or treatment of the animal.
Should Canadians be concerned about antibiotics, hormones?
John Prescott, a microbiologist at the University of Guelph’s pathobiology department, said there are a lot of misconceptions around antibiotics and beef.
“There is a really common misconception that meat contains antibiotics,” Prescott told Global News, adding that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and Health Canada have programs that monitor antibiotics and hormones.
Plants like cabbage and soy contain higher levels of hormones than a serving of beef from a treated animal, according to the Canadian Animal Health Institute.
Dietitians of Canada states that growth hormones are only approved for use in cows used for beef, and added hormones are not allowed in milk-producing cows, or in poultry and pork production.
However, there is growing concern that antibiotics used in animals to prevent illness has the potential to create drug-resistant bacteria, that could pose a threat to both animals and humans.