The Earl’s Conundrum.

Today Earl’s Restaurants announced that they are only serving what they call Certified Humane Beef through their Conscious Sourcing Program. Earl’s claim is: At Earls, we’re committed to conscious sourcing. That’s why all our beef comes from Certified Humane® farms and is raised without the use of antibiotics, added hormones or steroids. After all, it doesn’t just feel good to do the right thing — It tastes good, too.. This beef is not sourced from farmers in Canada. As a cattle farmer, my initial reaction is anger (how dare they infer that the beef I raise isn’t humane?) and then, introspection.

Am I, as a farmer, doing enough for my cattle and to tell people my story? My family spends hours researching new management techniques, how to improve the way we raise our cattle and care for our land. I have 2 degrees in animal agriculture. My husband has an agriculture degree. My sister-in-law is a mixed animal veterinarian. Our farm has an environmental farm plan. We take pride in our cattle and how we take of them and our land.  When we know better, we do better.  To tell others about farming, we have provided time and demo cattle to school events to talk about agriculture, we host groups to tour our farm, news interveiws, and more. On days like today, it seems our voice is not enough.  I encourage anyone that has questions about farming practices to talk to a real, live farmer. Ask me, or check out resources like Farm and Food Care Canada and Ask the Farmers. Talk to farmers and veterinarians about animal care, it’s our life’s passion.

Earls cut steak

Image source : Earls.ca

Why are consumers duped into these programs?  I’m guessing this sells for the same reason many other things do…fear…fear of things we don’t understand. So few people today are directly connect to livestock production, how can you know what is best? Food is a very emotional subject, so selling a fear of other food by inferring that it is “bad” makes a good sale.  Note on Earl’s site, they use the tag line “Cut Steaks, not Corners” to make it seem like anything less than their product is sub-par. As a farmer who cares deeply for my cattle, this is super offensive.

 

 

How is it ethical or humane to withold treatment to an animal that is sick? The Earl’s program is a “Never/Never” program that is stated to that these animal have never been treated with an antibiotic in their lifetime. As a farmer, I take my animal health very seriously. We manage our cattle very tightly, but inevitably, some cattle get sick and I see it as my duty of care to treat the animal as prescribed by my veterinarian to do my best to heal the calf. We also a very careful to follow the directions on withdrawal times to be sure that when an animal is sold, there is no antibiotic left in their system.

How is being less efficient by not using hormones or steroids better for the environment? Keeping producers from using these products is actually worse for the environment. Animals that are less efficient need more resources, feed, land and water, in order to produce the same amount of beef. How is that good for the planet? The safety of these products are clear. It’s safe. The difference between implanted and non-implanted beef is negligible and a drop in the bucket compared to many other things we eat, never mind if you are a woman who uses hormonal birth control.

More technically, I have many questions for Earl’s about how the program was specifically developed, with who (beyond the Creekstone Farm’s plug in the promo video), and how it the program audited? These are big claims for Earl’s to say they are using the Gold Standard in the industry. I am curious to know how they came to the nuts and bolts of the program.

I guess at the end of the day it is about trust. Do consumers trust me, as a farmer, that I am doing the best I can for my cattle and the environment? I’d be crazy not to.

Advertisements

A tale of respiratory disease

So the past two weeks I’ve been battling a chest cold. I finally bit the bullet and went to my doctor today Diagnosis: bronchitis. I have asthma and a history of bronchitis and pneumonia, so I was expecting this. I got a script for antibiotics a lecture about inhalers and taking it easy. This got me thinking about this advertisement email I got the other day:

Meyer's Natural Beef

This email has all sorts of things I’d like to talk about, but for today, I’ll stick to the antibiotic free part.

Consumers are looking for for more natural beef. I’m all about market development but where does that leave cattle producers from a welfare standpoint? Animals get sick. As a farmer, I do my best to keep my cattle healthy though best management practices and an intensive preventative medicine plans developed in conjunction with our herd health vet.

Respiratory disease is the most common disease in cattle. The bovine lung is more susceptible to respiratory disease than other livestock species. Cattle have small lungs, relative to the animals’ size, and the lungs are set deep in the chest.

Image of calf lung relative to calf size. Source: lungprotection.com

Image of calf lung relative to calf size. Source: lungprotection.com

Once viruses and bacteria get into the lungs, it’s easy for them to stay. Then when aggravating factors – such as stress, dust, heat, cold, or wind – make it difficult for the lungs to perform their usual self-protective functions, the viruses and bacteria can grow and cause infection. Even a small loss of lung capacity from infection can be a serious event because cattle have no lung tissue to spare. Consider this comparison between the lungs of cattle and horses. Cattle have 250% of the oxygen needs of horses but only 30% of the lung capacity. When cattle have reduced lung capacity from infection, they can consume even less of the oxygen that is essential to their overall health. (Source: Lungprotection.com)

What does this mean for the antibiotic free beef movement? Where are the ethics of not treating sick animals?

The National Farm Animal Care Code for Cattle Animal Health Requirements for Sick and Injured Care are:

Provide appropriate care, convalescence or treatment for sick, injured or lame cattle without delay. Monitor the animals’ response to therapy or care and, if the initial treatment protocol fails, then reassess treatment options or seek veterinary advice. Euthanize (or cull*) without delay cattle that:
• are unlikely to recover, or
• fail to respond to treatment and convalescent protocols, or
• have chronic, severe, or debilitating pain and distress, or
• are unable to get to or consume feed and water, or
• show continuous weight loss or emaciation.

What would we do with sick cattle that are treated with antibiotics if we move to a market where we do allow treated animals to be used for food production? To be clear, I am referring to cattle that were sick, treated, have recovered fully and are well past the withdrawal time for the prescribed medication when they are harvested for beef. I believe that it would be a huge disservice to the industry to exclude these animals from beef production. Disease happens, especially in times of harsh weather. Like this spring when we still had snow April 28:
Late spring snow storm.

Baby calves in late spring storms are a high risk for getting sick. In a world of antibiotic free beef, these calves would either 1. Excluded from the beef production cycle at a high cost to the producer and consumer if they are treated or 2. Left untreated would suffer more than necessary and possibly die. Neither option sounds like a great idea to me. So while I 100% support using the best management tools available to prevent disease and need to use antibiotics, I am very aware of how tough it is for cattle to resist disease in the face of stress like storms, dusk, handling etc. I am hoping we can reach a point one day again where the farmer is trusted and seen as a steward of animals using the best tools to care for their animals and land – even if the mean using products like antibiotics and other materials that are supported by sound science.