I know I am a little slow with this post. There have been blog posts and news stories floating around the internet for months criticizing A & W and their new better beef campaign and I may be echoing some of what they say. My motivation to write this came from a recent trip away with friends. Although most of them know of my stance towards A & W, we ended up stopping there for burgers to bring home for one of the husbands. The silence regarding my choice to eat a cookie from my purse instead of a burger made me reflect on how much the general population understands, or even cares about the ‘fear marketing’ that is going on around us at an increasing rate every day.
I come from a small town in the middle of Saskatchewan, a good 2 hour drive to the nearest Walmart and 100km away from the nearest Tim Horton’s. Here, the ever increasing in your face marketing from organic food companies and fast food chains isn’t as much of an issue as it is in bigger centers. A large part of the local population farms, and if you don’t farm you know a farmer and have been to their house, talked about their work and have waved to them in their tractor. The general consensus locally is that our food is sustainably grown and safe. This also makes the majority of us oblivious to the food hysteria that is going on in other parts of the country. I am a farmer. I read all the emails, magazines, newsletters, newspapers, attend the informational days, agriculture tradeshows, and generally do whatever I can to educate myself about our industry. Even I only recently became aware of the growing disconnect with the people who grow our food (2%) and the rest of the population (98%). Sitting smack dab in the middle of our food production chain are companies like A & W with their scare tactic campaigns. They don’t care what long term effect they have on our food production or public perception of agriculture, as long as they can sell you a burger today.
I am not a cattle farmer but I do know a marketing campaign full of BS when I see it. The cattle farmers really get the short end of the stick when it comes to people understanding the reasons for using hormones in the industry. So since my ‘BEEF’ is with A & W, let’s take a look at a few of the facts surrounding this campaign. When you go to their website the first thing you see is;
100% pure beef raised without any added hormones or steroids.
Notice it doesn’t say 100% Canadian beef? That’s because they import beef from Montana and Australia. I know lots of local cattle farmers who don’t use hormones. As an industry, agriculture is adaptive, tell us you want something and we will grow it – A & W doesn’t care about ‘supporting local’. Next look at the wording ‘raised without any added’. They have to use this wording because all beef has hormones in it. There is no such thing as ‘hormone free beef’. And lastly ‘hormones or steroids’, this is redundant term and the ‘or’ is put in there to make it look like A & W went to extra work to keep BOTH things out of their better beef. Every single word is a marketing tactic to make you buy their seemingly healthier burgers.
So why the hype about hormones? In Canada and the US cattle can be given something called growth promotant early on in their life. Using growth promotant means less crops are needed to grow the animal and less animal waste is produced because it helps the animal to process the food they eat into muscle tissue. An implant is given when the animal is young so the hormone has passed through its system long before it goes to market. Here are some stats from a blog post by Sarah Schultz http://www.nurselovesfarmer.com/2013/09/fear-marketing/; (she sourced the Beef Cattle Research Council at http://www.beefresearch.ca/blog/qa-on-conventional-production-of-canadian-beef/)
If we did not use growth promotants we would need;
-12% more cattle
-10% more land
-11% more feed
-4% more water
-7% more fuel and fertilizer
to produce the same amount of beef that we do today. Also the cattle would produce 10% more manure and 10% more greenhouse gasses. As Sarah points out it is likely that prices would increase and become unaffordable for many people, and our beef would be uncompetitive in the world market.
This is my favorite part though, because this is where A & W’s marketing really starts to look pointless and unreasonable. All this work to go hormone free, what levels of hormones are we talking about? Let’s look at some comparisons I borrowed from Andrew Campbell at; http://www.realagriculture.com/2013/10/im-done-with-fearing-food-and-done-with-aw-andrew-campbell/ , and Wikipedia.
Levels of hormones (estrogen)
5 nanograms (ng) – 500g (1.10231 LBS) of ‘hormone free’ beef (like A & W better beef)
7 (ng) – 500g (1.10231 LBS) of beef given the hormone implant
136,000.00 (ng) – produced daily by a man
513,000.00 (ng) – produced daily by a woman
20,000,000.00 (ng) – produced daily by a pregnant woman
300,000.00 (ng) – 500g white bread (so yes the bun has more hormones than the beef, a lot more)
20,000.00 to 50,000.00 (ng) – birth control pill
11,905.00 (ng) – 500g of cabbage
28,773.00 (ng) – 15 ml (1 TBSP) soyabean oil.
555.00 (ng) – eggs (500g)
Shall I keep going?
If we want to focus on those 2 extra (ng) of hormones we only have to look as far as Health Canada. “Generally speaking, in Canada there is zero tolerance for hormone, steroid or antibiotic remnants in beef destined for hungry, human stomachs. Those that can have trace amounts – known as maximum residue limits – are strictly regulated by Health Canada and are “considered to pose no adverse health effects if ingested daily by humans over a lifetime,” the department website says.” (http://www.ipolitics.ca/2013/09/26/canadian-cattle-groups-respond-to-aw-better-beef-campaign/) There are reasons we have organizations like the FDA, CFIA, Health Canada, WHO, FAO, and many others. Marketing campaigns that use fear to sell food undermine the real research and actual science that goes into making policy. Not only does it weaken trust in these organizations but it is an insult to the hard working farmers who labour to grow safe food in a sustainable way. Companies like A & W want you to believe that the farmers who grow around 95% of the food in Canada are not ethical or sustainable. Quite the opposite is true and if you look at the statistics, beef with hormone implants are actually more environmentally sustainable then the better beef cattle, especially the ones shipped from other countries.
So Yes, I realise that my family driving past A & W and going to a different restaurant that sells 100% Canadian beef isn’t going to make the marketing team lose any sleep. But my hope is if enough people understand how these companies are trying to target us, then maybe they will lose a few customers. If they lose as many customers as they gain slowly the trend of using fear to market food might stop. This is exactly what happened with General Mills. Not long ago they switched some of their cereal brands to Non-GMO. Cheerios, which is made with oats, was one of them. There are no GMO oats on the market anywhere in the world so all they were changing was the source of some of the trace ingredients like vitamins, and the marketing. The new Non-GMO Cheerios ended up being less nutritious with only 2% RDV of riboflavin (vitamin B2) where the original Cheerios had 25% RDV. It was the same story with Grape Nuts with the Non-GMO version having no vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin B12 or vitamin B2 (original Grape Nuts had all of these vitamins). “The company revealed the effort failed to improve the brands performance and it has no plans to reformulate additional products without GMOs” http://www.foodbusinessnews.net/articles/news_home/Business_News/2014/04/General_Mills_defends_GMOs_in.aspx?ID=%7B8EBE8C7A-FA78-4323-BB7F-0AD0D4EE99D7%7D&cck=1. People didn’t buy it, so they stopped advertising with fear.
In the end A & W’s better beef is not any better. I don’t care if you eat it, I don’t care if you don’t eat it. I just want people to understand that this is not about making better food, it is about manipulating people and unfortunately that is at the expense of a very hardworking industry. Those of us that try to stand up to marketing bullies with our words and our wallets don’t want to fight, but this time A & W took the first swing. Hey Canadian cattle farmers I support you and want to buy some beef – I am making homemade teen burgers from now on!