Earls retreats from U.S. beef sourcing

Canadian upscale-casual dining chain Earls Restaurants has pulled back from its recent public commitment to the “Certified Humane Beef” brand.

Mo Jessa, president of Vancouver-based Earls, said Wednesday the company will instead begin to “work with local ranchers to build our supply of Alberta beef that meets our criteria” for animal care and treatment.

The company faced widespread criticism after announcing April 26 it would switch the beef supplier for all its 59 Canadian and seven U.S. restaurants to Kansas-based Creekstone Farms, a standard-bearer for the U.S.-based Certified Humane Beef certification program.

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“We moved to a U.S. supplier as we thought they could supply all of our needs,” Jessa said in a release Wednesday. “It was a mistake not to include Canadian beef.”

Jessa noted the company has “deep roots” in the province with “many operations and employees here. Alberta has supported us. We need to support Alberta, especially in tough times.”

The company opened its first Earls restaurant in Edmonton in 1982 and now has over two dozen locations across the province.

Earls said Wednesday it is now “committed to sourcing as much beef as we can from Alberta and will work with cattle ranchers to build supply.”

In a notice to customers on its website, Earls emphasized it “stands by” its decision to offer its customers beef that has “never been treated with antibiotics or growth hormones and that meets specific, audited standards for animal care.”

The company said that when it set out to find a beef source with the quantity of cattle it needed, it had found one in Alberta, “but the supply was limited, so we found a supplier in the U.S. who could supply what we needed.”

Since then, Earls said Wednesday, customers have “told us that sourcing locally is very important” and the company has had ranchers “reach out to us to help supply us with product from Alberta.”

On its website, the company said it’s “had a lot of dialogue” with consumers and stakeholders over the past week and now wants to “make things right.”

The Canadian Cattlemen’s Association on Wednesday said it “will watch with interest as Earls reintroduces Canadian beef to its supply chain.”

The association said it “supports market differentiation for beef, provided marketing claims follow Canadian food labelling guidelines. These guidelines require that claims do not mislead or create an erroneous impression, including about the quality, healthfulness or safety of a product.”

Earls’ original decision last week had quickly come under fire across social media, where the #BoycottEarls hashtag circulated widely among farmers and others on Twitter.

Without naming the restaurant, the CCA on Sunday had issued a statement that Canadian animal care regulations and standards, including the national Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Beef Cattle, “can stand up to, and perhaps even exceed, any worldwide certifications or standards.”

Regulations and standards, the association said, “differ from certifications, which are simply a record of the production practices the majority of Canadian cattle producers are already doing.”

The national Code of Practice “covers everything from proper nutrition (and) treatments when cattle are sick, to proper handling and transport. It encourages the use of low-stress handling techniques, as well as pain mitigation and medication for stressful procedures.”

Methods developed by low-stress cattle handling experts “are used extensively in Canada,” the association said, citing experts such as Bud Williams and Dylan Biggs — as well as Temple Grandin, the famed U.S. expert with whom Earls’ management met ahead of its decision last week.

Also without naming the restaurant, the Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef on Friday issued a statement that its stakeholder members are “working hard to set the framework for sustainable beef in Canada and welcome others to join us.”

The organization, set up in 2014 with the aim of defining and advancing sustainability in Canadian beef, said Friday it “encourages all retail and food service companies, supply chain stakeholders and other interested individuals and organizations to join this effort and support the production of homegrown Canadian beef that is continuously improving for the planet, people, animals and progress.”

Toronto-based group Animal Justice on Wednesday said the chain’s decision and subsequent retreat serves to highlight what the group alleged to be a lack of government oversight, standards and enforcement on animal welfare in the livestock sector.

“Earls’ public relations disaster makes it clear that consumers want standards, transparency and accountability right here in Canada,” lawyer Anna Pippus, the group’s director for farmed animal advocacy, said in a release. –– AGCanada.com Network

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