THE VIEW FROM HERE – Before going south with its beef, Earls should have involved Canadian producers in the conversation

by Tom Henihan

In Vancouver, they never seem to miss an opportunity to treat important matters in a frivolous and self-aggrandizing manner.

Vancouverites sense of responsibility, of good moral conduct, is always far reaching and abstract with its concerns rooted in distance places such as the ozone, South American fair trade coffee and now Alberta beef.

Earls Restaurant chain, based in Vancouver, announced a couple of weeks ago that it would be importing its beef from a Humane Farm Animal Care (HFAC) accredited ranch in Kansas.

HFAC is a non-profit entity based in Virginia that operates the Certified Humane Raised and Handled program that inspects farms, ranches and slaughterhouses and issues certification for meat and dairy produce processed through these facilities.

Earls’ going south to acquire its beef solicited a heated response from the Canadian cattle industry.

Bob Lowe, chair of Alberta Beef Producers described it as “slap in the face,” that implied Alberta ranchers are not raising their animals humanely.

Of course, when faced with the full extent of the backlash and a possible boycott Earls relented and did a one-eighty.

‘Alberta has supported us. We need to support Alberta, especially in tough times,” said Mo Jessa, president of Earls . “Alberta is going through some tough times. To see a Canadian company going to buy U.S. products with no attention paid to what’s happening in Canada — that was a mistake, and I’m about to correct that.”

The issue is not Earls wanting to serve humanely raised and handled beef but the imperious manner in which it conducted itself. Instead of entering into conversation with Albertan producers and working towards a Canadian accredited system, it turned around, pulled its support and by implication damaged the reputation of Albertan beef.

The issue here is not that the cattle raised in Kansas are more humanely treated than cattle in Alberta, it is that in Kansas they are accredited as such.

If cattle in Alberta were raised under questionable circumstances then Earls would have the right to act as it did.

However, there is a very qualified consensus that says the Alberta industry uses best practices and that the problem lies with Canada not having a system of accreditation.

The importance of treating animals humanely is a matter of the first importance, whether the animals are domestic pets, raised for food or hunted in the wild. As part of our social evolution, in becoming civilized, we have extended our empathy to the conditions and suffering of animals and that is certainly a positive mark in our collective development.

Cruelty is always cruel; there can be no question of scale. No one has the right to subject any sentient creature to cruelty. This applies also to less obvious, expedient practices such as injecting animals with foreign substances to induce an increase in weight, or to confining them in any kind of environment that causes distress and discomfort.

While the Canadian cattle industry has not fallen behind in terms of humane practices, it has lagged behind where accreditation is concerned. However, Earls could have elected to be a player in developing a Canadian system instead of jumping ship and discrediting the industry.

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