That’s right. You read the title correctly. I am a Canadian Rancher, and I am thankful to A&W!
As most people from rural Western Canada know, in September of 2013 A&W, a fast food burger chain, came out with their “Better Beef” campaign. This campaign made claims that their “Better Beef” used no hormones or steroids. They claimed it was raised “sustainably” and “ethically”. Their campaign also meant a shift from the 100% Canadian Beef they were selling to importing the majority of it from South America and Australia. This sparked immediate outrage from the Canadian Beef Industry. These commercials were aimed to spark fear in consumer hearts about the safety of conventionally raised Canadian beef. This was a conscious decision to mislead consumers in order to sell more burgers. I personally was insulted by their in-direct portrayal of the beef that I raise. The beef I raise is neither unsustainable nor unethical. Fellow Canadian Agvocates Sarah Schultz and Andrew Campbell wrote excellent articles on the danger of this fear marketing. Sarah’s post on her Nurse Loves Farmer blog, Fear Marketing: I’ve Got a Beef with A&W, and Andrew Campbell’s piece for Real Agriculture, I’m Done with Fearing Food and Done with A&W do an excellent job of explaining why this is a huge issue for not only us Canadian beef producers, but for a grain grower and dairy producer as well.
But wait a minute…
I just explained why I am furious with A&W for their fear mongering ways. Why I have not eaten a teen burger in three years. Why I continue to be outraged with every product line that they mislead consumers about. Their eggs are from vegetarian hens (even though chickens are omnivores), their coffee is organic (even though organic in many coffee growing areas means slash and burning of the rainforest). I believe in every fibre of my being that this organization has chosen a path of dishonesty and sensationalism as a marketing strategy, and that is something I can never get behind. So how could the title possible state that I am THANKFUL to A&W?
So here it is..
A&W and their misleading advertising has been a call to action for all Canadian farmers and ranchers.
The growing movement of food myths, smear campaigns and out-right marketing lies was sneaking up on Canadian farmers at such a slow pace that it was easy to ignore it. It was easy to tell ourselves that only the granola crunchies were actually buying the crazy stories that were out there. Only the downtown hipsters were ready to believe that us normal, everyday, hardworking farmers would knowingly grow and raise something other than delicious and SAFE food. A&W’s Better Beef campaign showed us just how wrong we were. This huge eye opening moment is something that I am extremely thankful for. Suddenly all of Canadian Ag took a step back to see how badly we need to tell OUR story.
The hard truth is that people, everyday people, are talking about where their food comes from. They have questions and we can let organizations like A&W tell them their version of the answers, or we can tell them the TRUTH. The truth is that my Canadian raised beef is GOOD! The truth is that knowing, inside and out, exactly how Canadian beef is raised, I will serve it to my own children daily. That is much more than can be said of the
South American beef that A&W is importing for their “better beef”. This very blog was born from that campaign, as I had A LOT to say, and needed more space to say it than regular social media would allow.
At a Farm and Food Care Saskatchewan conference I attended this winter, Sarah Shultz was asked what her extended family thought about how much of their farming operation that she shares online. She explained that the A&W Better Beef campaign was an eye opener for her farmer Father-in-law. He, as a grain farmer, could see where this was heading and did not like it at all. It gave him, and thousands of other farmers, the pause needed to fully get behind those of us willing and able to tell the Canadian Agriculture story. The unvarnished farming truth.
So I still will not eat a teen burger. Their vegetarian eggs have gone untasted by me and my family. But as a bigger person, I can give credit where credit is due. Thank you A&W for making yourself the greater enemy that Canadian Ag needed in order to rally our troops, see the bigger picture, and start standing up for ourselves.
Update: I have been told that A&W does not buy beef from South America at this point. I have not been able to get a response back from them directly to confirm or deny that. I want to be completely truthful in anything I write, so will gladly take back the statement about their beef coming from South America. There website does specifically mention three suppliers from Canada (Spring Creek), USA and Australia. Wherever the source their beef from does not change the issue I have with how they are interacting with consumers. I do not like it.
Also, I am always willing to give credit where credit is due. A&W has chosen to take part in, and be very supportive of, the Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef. I wish they had chosen to go through with this before claiming their beef is sustainable, but I applaud them in this great endeavor.
24 thoughts on “Why This Canadian Rancher is Thankful to A&W”
Bravo Adrienne! Your blogs are always a great read, keep it up! Michelle Walker Wolf Lake Lodge 306-873-8670 firstname.lastname@example.org
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Also, I haven’t eaten at A & W since you helped me become educated. . . Well, except for one time at the start when I forgot I was protesting. 😉
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Have not been in an A&W since they started their phoney adds. Actually they were my fast food of choice…….NO LONGER……..
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I like their Mozza burger, but last time I went it cost me $11 for a burger and their one size pop. I don’t like that they don’t have ice, but $11 was ridiculous for a product that comes frozen in little patty shapes from different continents.
Couldn’t agree more, Adrienne. Each wall we hit 😕 is an opportunity to open a door or window to building a better industry. It never seems great in the short term, but – overall – we’ve learned to work together in new, unexpected ways.
Thanks for posting! Always enjoy reading your blog,
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Thanks For the kind words Cami!
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(shug) If Canadian beef is raised without hormones or steroids, A&W could use it too.
Why would we use more land, more water, and more feed while producing more greenhouse gases to produce beef that A&W does not want to pay more for? The beef they use is not higher in nutrition, but took a whole lot more to produce it. Unless you are trying to scare people into choosing your product with misleading advertising, it just doesn’t make sense.
Actually, Allan Savory, who is a big proponent of the cattle industry, would point out that the longer cattle are on grass, the more carbon they sequester. Holistically managed cattle sequester enough carbon to more than offset any methane issues around their digestive system. It’s the grain that they eat in the feedlot that is carbon intensive – not only through all the diesel fuel used to plant, spray, and harvest the crop, but also through the inevitable soil loss that comes from its constant working. There’s a whole slew of vegans out there who can’t wait to agree with you that grass fed cattle have a bigger carbon footprint than feedlot cattle. Then they’ll misrepresent the 8-1 conversion ratio to make it sound like steers eat nothing but grain from the day they are weaned. And then they’ll misrepresent the water consumption of beef, completely ignoring the fact that until a cow hits the feedlot, its biggest water consumption is calculated rainfall – with zero environmental impact – that went into growing grass and hay. Properly managed, cows in pasture are a wonderful thing for the planet. It’s when cattle hit a CAFO that things start getting bad. Coincidentally, that’s where the hormones and antibiotics suddenly become necessary too. If you think A&W is telling a difficult story, wait until you hear what the vegans are telling. A&W is doing the beef industry a favour. If you don’t think so, maybe you could rent Cowspiracy and give it a watch.
Perhaps I was not clear enough in my last comment. A beef production system that bans antibiotics, hormones, GMOs, and feedlots combined is a lot! Our system uses a combination of pasture and feedlot, so significantly reduce the amount of time the animals are “on feed” in a feed yard.
I have absolutely nothing against pasture fed beef. We have tried it ourselves. The problem is that in Canada, grass only grows for 4-5 months of the year. Most pasture fed beef produced here is still fed a concentrate of some form (often pelleted feed). It is just too darn difficult to get animal fat without it.
Like all things, moderation is usually key – when you start banning things from your system for the sake of marketing to a “label” is when producers are making decisions based on other priorities than the land and the animals.
I would not (and did not) say that pasture fed cattle have a larger carbon footprint than feedlot cattle. Rather that all these tools can help us in specific situations, and marketing them otherwise to consumers is misleading.
Of course the other reason to be thankful to A&W is because they brought the issue to the public that a market exists in Canada to be filled by whoever wants to supply A&W with the beef they want to sell. Hopefully some Canadian beef farmers will open their eyes to the fact that many consumers want to know how their food was raised and why it was raised that way. I for one would love to find a burger joint that only served grass-fed, pastured beef that is free of antibiotics, hormones, GMO feed, and that were raised ethically and humanely.
Hi Robert. I would love to chat with you anytime about how our conventionally raised beef is raised ethically and humanely, as is the vast majority of beef in Canada. That is a very long list of things that you would like excluded from raising beef. I would hate to see how much land that would take if all beef was raised that way.
Again, I am a mom first, and the health of my kids is more important to me than anything in the world. I have a degree in Agriculture studying this, as does my husband and Father In Law. If I felt, in any tiny part, that these things were harmful to either our land, or the people (my kids) eating the beef, they would not be used here. Full stop.
Thanks for your response. I know how conventional beef is raised and have no problem with people consuming it. I prefer not to, and instead buy only organically fed, pastured, beef that gets no GMO feed in its diet. (I don’t actually have a problem with the use of antibiotics so long as it is only used when required, and not part of the regular feed to promote growth. I also realise that Canada does not allow hormones in our livestock raised in Canada, but fear new trade agreements will change that.)
My wife and I recently purchased a small organic farm and look forward to making that transition. We, of course, will produce our own food, and barter with other local, organic farmers. I understand the concerns of industrial agriculture and the farmers who follow that model, and I don’t mean them any disrespect. But I strongly believe we need to move toward a model with many more small farmers feeding local communities (as opposed to the current trend of less farmers on bigger, more industrialised farms.) This is also the recommendation of the World Health Organisation with regard to agricultural production.
Thanks for your comment!
That’s why this country is great – we have room for all these awesome food system options! Farm on my friend, best of luck on your new farm!
I fully agree that we need to educate the consumer that modern agricultural production produces safe, nutritious food. I also agree that we definitely need to challenge lies and misinformation about food. Which poses a real dilemma given what you wrote. You see, I disagree that A&W is misleading consumers about the safety of beef. In my opinion, the A&W campaign is nothing more than a marketing strategy. They are actively marketing a product for which there was already a demand and that demand is growing; regardless if there is any real benefit to be gained by buying the product. I consider what A&W is doing is no different than what some cattlemen themselves did for years by pushing Angus Beef in their advertising, sales, and even in restaurants menus.
You talk of the need for truthfulness, yet you write that A&W is now “… importing the majority of it (beef) from South America and Australia” And you go on to say: “…That is much more than can be said of the South American beef that A&W is importing for their “better beef”. ” How do you know this? Where did you get this information from? I doubted what you wrote and contacted A&W head office. I was told A&W does not import any beef from South America! It all comes from Canada, the US, and some from Australia and New Zealand. There is definitely some misleading and sensationalizing going on but it is not all A&W!
Farmers have to tell out story but we have to do it honestly.
I was told by A&W directly that they purchase beef from South America in a producer meeting that they attended. Perhaps they no longer do, but I prefer knowing where my meat comes from and what the countries standards are.
The difference I see in the Angus marketing strategy is that there first benchmark was quality. The meat needed to be graded at the highest quality to pass into the program. Through marketing and tenderness it really is too notch beef.
Fortunately A&W has suspended calling their campaign “Better Beef”, due in part to the large outrage. Perhaps if they did not try to put that name in it we would not have reacted in quite as large of a way.
A&W has stated that it is not their job to educate consumers, and it is not their fault if consumers infer incorrect information from their marketing.
I find this incredibly sad.
Interesting response. We have a quality grading system for beef so why was it necessary to have Angus Beef when we already have Canada Prime unless not all Angus Beef meets Canada Prime – which it doesn’t.
So I will argue that Angus Beef is not strictly based on quality. It is a marketing program aimed at selling an image, exactly what A&W does.
Check out what Wikipedia says about the Angus Beef label: “Certified Angus Beef (CAB) in Canada and the United States is a specification-based, branded-beef program which was founded in 1978 by Angus cattle producers to increase demand for their breed of cattle, by promoting the impression that Angus cattle have consistent, high-quality beef with superior taste. The brand is owned by the American Angus Association and its 35,000 rancher members. The terms Angus Beef or Black Angus Beef are loosely and commonly misused and/or confused with CAB; this is especially common in the food service industry. The brand or name Certified Angus Beef cannot be legally used by an establishment that is not licensed to do so.”
Second, by your response you are insinuating that South American Beef is substandard to Canadian Beef. By what standards are you making this claim? What proof do you have that South American beef is substandard or that a South American rancher does not care about producing the best beef he can, just as Canadian ranchers do?
I also wonder, do you also question where your produce comes from? How do you ensure that the watermelon you bought at the store, that may have come from Mexico or the coffee from Columbia meets your standards. What are the standards for crops such as these in those countries and how do you know they are being met? You are saying exactly what A&W’s customers(or organic producers, or local growers) say yet you complaining about A&W’s supplying that market demand.
My point was that the Angus system has a benchmark for highest quality. A&W does not. That is the first of many qualifications (of which I am no expert!)
I did not say that South America has sub-standards. I said I do not know what their standards are.
My produce comes from a variety of sources. I choose Canadian as much as possible.
Finally, I remind you that this is my personal blog. My own opinion. I have never deleted a comment, or backed away from a conversation, but if you need to nitpick someone’s writing – choose someone who at least got paid for it.
It all amounts to one base thing, they get the beef cheaper ! Had a friend lived in S AM for several years. natural beef, natural diseases, also they treat hoof and mouth and sell the beef. Lots of the cattle are grown on slash and burn acres. I raised cattle for many years never used hormones and treated for illness like every other producer. Never got extra on the market for the beef either. Most times got top dollar , got crowded out by BSE panic and cooperate farms. Corporations want to make money. They lie and misinform in order to make maximum profits They treat consumers like gullible morons which unfortunately many are , they do not give one thought to the environment or health concerns only to profit margins!
Large or small, I don’t think it’s the size of farm the makes producers good, honest people. We all want the same thing in the end. To make a reasonable living producing something great!
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I truly appreciated your blog on this topic, as it mirrors my thoughts on the issue. It is unfortunate that we have been less successful in calling out A&W for their misinformation, as we had been with Earl’s when they started their campaign to source less expensive beef from non-Canadian sources under the guise of healthier beef. They specifically stated (similar to A&W has), that they are unable to source enough beef to meet their requirements from Canadian suppliers. Interestingly enough, when patrons started boycotting Earl’s restaurants en masse, Earl’s was magically able to find enough Canadian beef raised in the manner they required to meet their chain’s demands. Shame on A&W for misleading well-intended but poorly informed consumers, and shame on them for not supporting the Canadian beef industry will can more than meet their needs if they want to source their beef domestically. I miss A&W, but I spend my money at other chains that support the Canadian ranching industry by sourcing their beef 100% Canadian.
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I hope this works. Every now and then something unites and mobilizes people. This piece was recorded by the Rebel at Sault St Marie during the “United We Roll” convoy to Ottawa. Same theme; thank you and wake up.