Fund­ing for U of S build­ing comes as a sur­prise, Kevin Hursh writes.

Regina Leader-Post - - CITY + REGION -

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.


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