A(mbiguous) & W(rong)

How A&W Canada Supports Unsustainable Agriculture

I miss A&W’s onion rings. The reason I miss them is that I no longer buy food at their chain of restaurants. A&W has initiated a marketing campaign that misleads consumers about beef production in Canada and, for this reason, I have chosen to give my business to their competitors.

Does A&W really have better beef?
A&W Canada's 'Better Beef', is it really better than Canada's beef?

In September 2013, A&W began a hamburger marketing campaign on how A&W beef is produced for their restaurants. A&W launched this strategy stating that “we’re the first and only national burger restaurant in Canada to serve beef raised without the use of hormones or steroids.” This message subtly suggests that Canadian beef farmers’ use of hormones and steroids in the production of beef is unsafe for humans. While A&W has every right to market their hamburgers in this manner, Canadian consumers deserve to know the complete story about beef produced without hormones and how unsustainable this practice is.

So where does A&W get their beef from? A&W’s website identifies the only Canadian source of beef as Spring Creek Ranch, near Vegreville, Alberta. Their other sources are the United States and Australia. As of 2011, Spring Creek Ranch had the capacity to produce roughly 5,000 head of slaughter-ready cattle per year. According to Dr. John McKinnon, Saskatchewan Beef Industry Chair at the University of Saskatchewan, approximately 50% of a deboned, dress-weight beef carcass goes to be ground into hamburger, resulting in at most, 2 million pounds of Canadian-produced, hormone-free hamburger for A&W to purchase. However, A&W needs to purchase roughly 38 million pounds of hamburger annually. So, where are the other 36 million pounds of hamburger coming from? That’s right, American and Australian beef producers. To me, it is clear that A&W no longer supports Canadian farmers.

As a response to A&W’s campaign of misinformation, the Alberta Beef Producers have provided an excellent summary of how beef producers contribute to agriculture sustainability through the use of growth hormones in beef production. Growth hormones were introduced in the mid-1970s, allowing penned livestock to increase their weight-gain-per-day, requiring fewer feeding days. Comparing beef production in 1977 with 2007, reveals that 11% more beef is produced by Canadian cattle farmers using 20% fewer cattle. The Alberta Beef Producers go on to state that if beef production was to return to a period prior to using hormones, such as the 1950s, producing the amount of beef in Canada today would take:

  • 12% more cattle;
  • 10% more land;
  • 11% more feed;
  • 4% more water;
  • 7% more fuel;
  • 10% more greenhouse gasses; and would result in
  • 8% higher beef prices.

For years, consumer food surveys have revealed that Canadians want safe, nutritious food. Canadian beef farmers are providing such a product and are doing so in a sustainable manner. Modern beef production requires less land to raise more beef, allowing more land to be used in the production of food crops that can contribute to improving global food security.

Sadly, A&W has chosen to be a hypocrite. They subtly accuse the Canadian beef industry of producing beef in an unsafe manner through the use of hormones and steroids, yet they purchase beef that is less sustainable and contributes more to global warming. In addition to this, they omit to inform consumers that they do not support Canadian farmers, preferring instead to import hamburger from the USA and Australia. So much for supporting Canadian businesses. Since A&W has expressed a clear desire to not support Canadian agriculture businesses, I will no longer support them. I prefer to support food companies that support Canadian farmers as well as supporting sustainable agriculture. Canadian consumers have a right to know that A&W does not support the majority of Canadian beef farmers, nor does it support sustainable agriculture. 

23 Comments

  1. Bernie garrett

    I used to enjoy A&W food too but have also boycotted them. We produce canadian beef and will only support restaurants that use canadian beef. I stopped at A&W out of habit when traveling thru Alberta a year ago, received my food and then looked up at a “hormone” free add they had on the wall. I was so mad that I left my food and wrote on my napkin “this us cattle country, you should support your local cattle producers”. I doubt anyone saw it but I felt better. Speak up people. Support canadian beef please.

  2. Gale Johnstone

    It looks to me like A&W marketing plan is working.their product is good, no discount there. A boycott won’t make any difference to them as only a small % of people are informed enough to know that the lack of a growth hormone is not making it taste better. The beef industry in Canada seriously needs to get information into the hands of consumers that explains the realities of beef production in this country, and how insignificant the difference of hormone verses non hormone beef actually is. ( way more in the coleslaw than in the hormone treated beef). Check around people lots of info. Available . P. S. I still enjoy A&W but their marketing strategy is not why.

    1. Malnourishment is huge problem in developing countries, especially for children under the age of 5, with about 1.5 million children dying of malnourishment annually. A&W supports unsustainable land use to supply their beef, not to mention the environmental impacts of shipping beef halfway around the world. All of this is done for what? To feed food rich, overweight Canadians hamburgers. A&W executives could have chosen to support environmental sustainable policies, but have chosen not to. Corporate decisions like this really bother me.

      1. David

        I see where you are coming with the malnourishment argument but tell me what percentage of that beef is shipped to those countries with malnourishment, i can guarantee not nearly as much as is shipped to Canada, America and the more wealthy countries. No where in their statement do they say specifically that they disagree with the Canadian way of beef production they have made a choice to cater to a niche market which seems to be working as McDonalds is also soon to be producing anti-biotic free chicken. I am not saying I disagree with you. I agree that hormones are a very useful tool, but the reason that they solely get their beef from one place in Canada is an easy one because quite simply not enough Canadian beef producers produce hormone free beef.

        1. David you make a valid argument. I agree that not much meat would be shipped to countries with malnourishment problems, but my point was more to the choice of land use. The Alberta Beef Producers show that without the use of hormones, it takes 10% more land to raise these animals. This is unsustainable and this land could be better used to grow crops that could be exported to malnourished parts of the world. Most developing country diets don’t include meat, so growing more pulses and lentils, for example, that could be exported is a more efficient use of our land. Thankfully, the vast majority of Canadian cattlemen support sustainable means of beef production.

  3. Danielle

    They also don’t tell you that the reason their beef “tastes better” is because they put MSG in it as a flavour enhancer…also in their onion rings.

    1. Very true! I have seen no studies regarding hormone use and ‘taste’. If A&W is so confident about the ‘taste’ of their hamburgers, they ought to be willing to fund an academic blind taste panel that could verify these ‘claims’. How about it A&W? Are you confident enough in your product to fund true research?

  4. Alena

    I never took as A&W was saying hormones and antibiotics were bad, I took it as a stab at the other restaurants that get in crap for adding stuff to their food.
    And A&W started as an American company.

    1. Savannah Gleim

      Alena that’s an interesting way of seeing it. Essentially nothing is being added to the food itself, raised with hormones does not change the end product that other restaurants sell. A&W is offering an alternative option for consumers, however, based on your comment their marketing is giving off the idea that other restaurants are serving food with added ingredients. Hormone use is not “added stuff” or ingredients in beef, the use of hormones is an animal management tool and production method.

  5. Beaks bakiraq

    If everyone is greatly upset by water consumption, land use and other environmental costs associated with beef production instead of eating so called safe sustainable artificial hormone beef from Canada why not reduce the unsustainability dramatically by eliminating beef completely and only eating locally grown vegetables? Looking at people in a mechanical sense we are designed or evolved to eat nutrients that are earth-grown in the most simplistic form. Not artificially created hormones, gmos or neonicotinoids. If you want to be Eco friendly go live off the land. If you want to eat meat kill a deer with a bow and process it yourself. No hormones to debate, no worries of transport cost on the environment no philosophical worries over the welfare of an animal you never even got to see alive.There are still plenty of opportunities to get out there in today’s age. Be the change you want to see.

  6. heather

    Well… If we follow the addage that we should follow where the makets take us… I suggest that rather than boycotting a company for fnot selling enough canadian beef… that we as canadian beef producers should be raising more antibiotic and hormone free beef. To suggest that we should all ignore the independant studies that show it is harmful as it is passed into the meat is irrelevent. If that is what the consumer wants… then if you have any business saavy you work towards gaining that market!

  7. Bonnie

    I’m happy to buy local when I feel it’s the healthiest option. If Canadian beef farmers want us to consume their beef, they need to lay off the hormones & steroids.
    I’m not interested in the convenience of raising animals with unnecessary drugs, I want to feed my family, healthy food. I’ll happily pay a bit more for natural foods.

  8. Ralph jones

    No beef in canada contains any hormones or steroids!
    That’s a fact !
    All farmers are not allowed to sell cattle if they used antibiotics on any animal, it’s the law. Organic does not refer to how a person feels it is the food you eat, stop using it to describe how you feel.
    Ever see a live cow people?
    That’s what your beef is.
    Media brainwashes people easily.

  9. Ralph jones

    If your from Ontario you should be worried about your milk hormones being injected into Holstein cows, by the way that’s what veal is made from.
    The ordinary farmer in Ontario has 160acre farms and the ordinary city person thinks this is a huge farm, in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba they own a county, or at least two sections of land.
    The grain we grow is not just fed to the cows, that’s what your bread and pasta are made from. If you eat too many products made from soybeans you won’t be able to have kids, it messes up your own hormones. These are facts the media doesn’t promote.

  10. SAIFood

    While many foods like soy are accused of causing fertility issues, there is little evidence to support that. It is not to say that soy or another food cannot cause an individual to suffer from infertility, but the likelihood is small. Why has soy been accused of infertility? Soy is high in a plant-based estrogen, known as phytoestrogen, and with the increase consumption of soy products in North America have sparked our paranoia, of does this product make me: fat, tired, infertile, and the list goes on. Numerous studies have been performed, and there is an overwhelming consensus that soy does not impact ones fertility. In a 2010 Journal of Nutrition* publication, for females would consume >100 mg of isoflavones/day could have reduced fertility. Based on USDA** information, 100 mg of isoflavones would mean consuming each day for a period of time 342 g of soft tofu (=1.31 metric cups) or 1036 g of soy milk (=4.03 metric cups). That is a lot of pure soy consumption, those not consuming a tetra pack of soymilk a day are not likely to consume 100 mg of isoflavones through the small trace amounts of soy in our processed foods. Not to mention if you look at nations which have traditionally had a high soy diet like China or Japan, you would not find that their infertility levels*** and birth rates differ all that much from North American’s.
    Links:
    *: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3139237/
    ** http://www.isoflavones.info/isoflavones-content.php
    *** http://globalfertilitymap.com/#-5.615985819155327,7.734374999999999,2

  11. Mark

    The person who wrote this post is missing the point from a more macro perspective. This address one perspective of food chain management, and completely disregards a laundry list of other pros and cons to weigh….. This article is ‘somewhat’ informed … but not really.

  12. Rob Laidlaw

    This gets me Pissed 😡 off. Their recent ads make you think they are buying beef from Canadian Producers. This is a bunch of Bull and we as Canadians shouldn’t be mislead. As much as I like A&W since I was a kid. I will not eat there again until the change their practices and use mostly Canadian Beef. It is the BEST in the World, hands down. Get a grip A&W.

    1. I’m with you on this one Rob! I teach a class on ag policy to about 40 ag students in the fall and when I ask how many of them eat at A&W, not a single hand goes up. This is great to see as the farm community knows how A&W is slandering Canadian beef farmers to buy American and Australian beef. I sat next to the A&W Vice-President responsible for this decision a year ago and she confirmed to me that they didn’t even approach the Canadian beef industry about trying to provide the beef they were looking for, so it was a deliberate attempt by A&W to undermine Canadian agriculture. Despicable Canadian corporate behaviour.

  13. Pingback: #1 Post of the Year: Stuart's Beef with A&W - Sustainable Agricultural Innovations & Food -SAIFood

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