A&W DONATION BITTERSWEET, CONSIDERING AD CAMPAIGN
Funding for U of S building comes as a surprise, Kevin Hursh writes.
Surprising and ironic. Those are a couple of the words that come to mind with the news that A&W is donating $5 million toward the University of Saskatchewan’s $36 million Livestock and Forage Centre of Excellence under construction near Clavet, just east of Saskatoon.
The beef industry has had a long-standing issue with A&W, but now there are five million reasons for the university and beef producers to curtail criticism.
If you watch any regular television, it’s hard to miss the continuous A&W advertising campaign for beef without any added hormones or antibiotics. A&W’s campaign is based on its beef tasting better and being healthier — claims with no scientific basis. Rather than responding to consumer demand, A&W has built a brand based on promoting consumer misinformation.
What A&W doesn’t say in its ads is that a lot of its beef isn’t Canadian. The Canadian supply chain for hormone and antibiotic-free beef hasn’t been fully established, so the restaurant chain relies on some percentage of imports. When asked at various beef industry meetings, the company declines to reveal how much of its beef is domestic and how much is imported.
Naturally, a lot of Canadian cattle producers have been upset with A&W. I’m not a beef producer, but I avoid A&W whenever possible because I don’t appreciate the company’s scare tactics and disregard for the industry. Many other farmers boycott A&W for the same reasons.
“A&W, the University of Saskatchewan and Canadian ranchers all believe in good food, farmed with care,” said Susan Senecal, chief operating officer for A&W in the news release announcing the donation. “Together, we are forging continued advancement and innovation for healthy, sustainable growth.”
If A&W is actually committed to those principles, it should have been part of the national roundtable on sustainable beef. McDonalds has been at the table for years working with beef producers and all the other players in the industry to develop sustainable production protocols that have relevance.
McDonald’s, by the way, uses all Canadian beef, as do many restaurant chains.
According to U of S president Peter Stoicheff, the Livestock and Forage Centre of Excellence “epitomizes the university’s One Health initiative, bridging the gaps between human, animal and ecosystem health.”
If that’s the case, how do you reconcile A&W’s major donation with its anti-science approach?
To set the record straight, one serving of beef from an animal treated with a tiny hormone implant has two nanograms of estrogen, just slightly more than beef from an animal that was not treated. Hormones are in all our foods. A slice of bread or hamburger bun has thousands of nanograms of estrogen. A nanogram is one-billionth of a gram.
You get way more estrogen from nibbling on the hamburger bun than you do eating the entire beef patty, whether or not that beef came from a treated animal.
As for antibiotics, all meat should be free of residues. If an animal is treated for sickness, there’s a required withdrawal time before that animal can go to market.
A robust regulatory system is in place with ever-tightening rules to make sure the food supply is safe. The A&W campaign may make consumers feel better, but the company’s beef certainly isn’t healthier and you won’t be able to taste any difference in the burger.
Increasingly, consumers make purchase decisions based on perception and emotion rather than science. Like it or not, the food system is responding to meet the demand. Creating the demand takes it to a different level.
One wonders if A&W would have made its donation if there wasn’t a need to mend fences with beef producers. Whatever the case, it’s better for all players in the food chain to be communicating and collaborating rather than operating in silos.
Thanks for your support A&W, but I’m still going to frown when I see your commercials and I still won’t eat in your establishments.
A&W chairman emeritus Jefferson Mooney speaks at a funding announcement at the U of S in Saskatoon on Dec. 1. The $5 million donation will go to the U of S Livestock and Forage Centre of Excellence.