Cattle producers take issue with beef marketing claims

A&W Root Bear
A+W -- whose Root Bear mascot is shown here in March 2013, opening the chain's 100th restaurant in Quebec -- booked higher same-store sales in 2013, partly crediting its "Better Beef" campaign. (CNW Group/A+W Food Services of Canada Inc. )

Canada’s cattle producer group says it appreciates food marketers’ efforts to connect consumers to farmers — as long as those marketing efforts don’t misinform consumers.

While the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association didn’t name any specific marketers in a media statement to that effect Wednesday, it defended the Canadian industry’s record on food safety, on its use of antimicrobials and growth promotants, and on cattle care and handling.

“On behalf of the producers who raise cattle on Canada’s 68,500 beef farms, the CCA would like consumers to know that all beef produced in Canada is safe, wholesome and nutritious,” the Calgary-based association said.

The CCA’s statement follows the launch Monday of a “Better Beef” campaign from Canada’s second-biggest burger chain, A+W, which profiles three of its cattle suppliers and pledges its burgers come from cattle raised “without any added steroids or hormones and contains no added preservatives or additives.”

Vancouver-based A+W billed itself Monday as “the first national burger restaurant to serve this better beef” and said its customers “have told us that making a burger with this better beef is simply the right thing to do.”

Earlier this month, Nova Scotia-based grocery chain Sobeys, working in partnership with British celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, announced itself as the first major retailer in North America to offer “Certified Humane” chicken, pork and beef.

The certification, Sobeys said, means the livestock in question “was treated humanely from birth through slaughter including a nutritious diet without antibiotics or hormones, provided shelter, resting areas and sufficient space, and the ability to engage in natural behaviours.”

Also earlier this month, U.S. burrito chain Chipotle Mexican Grill launched a multimedia campaign dubbed “The Scarecrow,” which touts the chain’s “naturally raised beef” among its other products and criticizes production methods of “factory farms.”

The Denver-based chain, which in its most recent annual report said it’s “planting seeds for future growth in Europe and Canada,” bills its meat as coming from livestock “raised in a humane manner and without the use of subtherapeutic antibiotics or added hormones.”

Chipotle — which so far includes six Canadian outlets out of over 1,500, nearly all in the U.S. — said it’s “put a lot of work into poking, prodding, convincing and occasionally applying guilt to ranchers in order to get more and more suppliers to meet our naturally raised standards.”

“Healthy and productive”

Beef producers, the CCA said, “have used antimicrobials and growth promotants for more than four decades and science shows no negative consequences for the health or safety of animals or humans related to their use.”

Such products must be approved and licensed by Health Canada before they can be used in cattle, the CCA noted.

“Along with keeping animals healthy and productive, these products reduce the amount of water and feed required to produce beef, lower greenhouse gas production and lessen the overall environmental footprint of cattle production.”

The CCA’s statement also follows announcements in August from meat packers Tyson and Cargill that they would suspend purchases of cattle fed with Merck’s growth-promoting additive Zilmax, starting this month.

Merck then suspended sales of Zilmax in both Canada and the U.S., pending the results of a company audit of how the drug is now used in feedlots and stockyards. More recently, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) announced it would no longer accept deliveries of cattle fed Zilmax, starting Oct. 7.

Cattle producers “work hard every day to ensure their cattle are healthy, safe and well-cared for,” the CCA said Wednesday, noting Canada’s beef producers were the first to develop a code of practice for care and handling of beef cattle.

Canada’s code was launched in 1991; an updated version was released earlier this month. – AGCanada.com Network

Related stories:
A+W Canada tightens beef sourcing requirements, Sept. 24, 2013
CME to halt delivery of cattle given Zilmax, Sept. 24, 2013
Bull castrations reconsidered in updated cattle code, Sept. 9, 2013

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