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Meat Advertising Trickery - Be a More Informed Consumer

This is something that has been on my nerves a bit lately. Advertising of meat is very manipulative, especially for the do-good yuppies that are generally low information, but very motivated to show how progressive they are with food. I'm not calling for regulations or anything like that on how one advertises because they're not lying. I want consumers to better understand what marketing is and how they end up doing it.

The specific cases I want to discuss are very common ones. Currently A&W is running with the "Our chicken is raised without the use of antibiotics. Another one that A&W personally does is that their beef is made without growth hormones. President's Choice has a similar slogan regarding pork.

Marketing is a very simple concept of displaying benefits to consumers. It's not lying, but you're not necessarily getting the full story or an entire perspective. Without that perspective, you can be mislead. I think the first time I learned that was with an infomercial can opener. This type of can opener cut the top off differently and gladly showed the benefit that the top is not sharp! Wow. Full truth, the can itself was the sharp part.

Most of this fear with meat is a caricature of the US marketplace and not relevant to Canada.

Growth Hormones in Canada

The practice of using growth hormones in Canada has been illegal since the 1960's[1], except for beef[2]. This shows that President's Choice has used a very manipulative tactic with regards to pork. What they say is true, but it is true for all pork. A&W's claim regarding beef is actually a lot more honest.

When it comes to beef, I think it's important to qualify the type of hormones used. There are three approved natural hormones and three synthetic hormones[2]. Don't let the word synthetic scare you. It's the process of making an identical hormone in a lab. It's how diabetics get insulin. It's synthetically made, but chemically identical to what the body produces.

It's important to qualify that there is no such thing as hormone free beef, or hormone free animal product. Animals have hormones and when you eat them, you consume some of those hormones. You can get into a discussion about whether it is ethical to eat meat with a hormone that makes meat leaner, but you can't escape that hormone. Also important to note that our body creates many of these hormones ourselves and the actual quantity gained through consumption is next to negligible (measured in nanograms)[2].

Dairy cows are not allowed to use growth hormones and produce dairy products[3]. The only time it is administered is when the cow is suffering from a health problem and they're taken out of distribution.

Animal Antibiotics in Canada

Preventative antibiotics in chicken are restricted in Canada. This means that it is only administered to chickens if they have a health issue, plus they're removed from the distribution side until the animal is clean again. Other meats follow a similar mandate. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency regulates this part of the process and it is rare to find any antibiotics in meat.

The regulatory view on claims of "natural", "raised...", etc.

This probably the most interesting aspect of this discussion because we need to know definitions. What makes the meat "natural"? What makes the meat "organic"? What exactly does "raised without growth hormones" mean? The answer to these questions might not be exactly what you think.

"raised without the use of antibiotics"
In order to display the claim "raised without the use of antibiotics" the animal or fish must not have received antibiotics from birth to harvest. In addition, no antibiotics can be administered to the mother of the animal in question in any manner which would result in antibiotic residue in the animal. Vitamins and minerals given to the animal may only be given at the level of physiological action for dietary supplement, not for antimicrobial effect.
However, the following are permitted in the production of foods of animal or fish origin labelled "raised without the use of antibiotics" claims (other substances will be evaluated as required):Veterinary biological products:
•direct fed microbial products registered with CFIA as feed ingredients, for example Interbac.
Even though the CFIA clearly states that "raised without the use of antibiotics" as an animal not receiving antibiotics from birth to harvest, it can still use that label when it receives vaccines, antisera (blood agent), colostrum (anti-bodies) and direct fed microbial products (lactic producing bacteria).

"raised without the use of hormones"
No hormones shall be administered in any way (including through the mother) to the animal that forms the food product carrying the claim "raised without the use of hormones" on the label or advertisement.
1.In cases where regulations permit the use of hormones and where none were used, the products from these animals could make the claim "raised without the use of hormones".
Another interesting perspective from our regulators. To use the claim of "raised without the use of hormones", no hormones shall be given to the animal, including the mother. Even though this definition seems pretty straight forward, if a jurisdiction requires hormones to be used, the claim "raised without the use of hormones" can still be used.

"grain fed"
These claims are considered synonymous and are acceptable on food products derived from animals which were fed a grain diet, where the macro feed ingredients, added as sources of energy and protein, are made up solely of grains and grain by-products with no ingredients of animal origin. Minerals and vitamins as well as non-nutritive feed additives such as medications, biologics, pellet binders, enzyme supplements, anti-caking agents, flavouring agents, etc., may be added regardless of origin.
So "grain fed" also includes medication, biologics, enzyme supplements and anti-caking agents.

With respect to a meat, poultry, or fish product, "natural" and "naturally raised" claims are considered acceptable only on products that were raised with minimal human intervention, for example, wild turkey or wild fish. To raise animals so that their products can be labelled as "natural" would be very difficult as most animals receive vaccination or medication and the feed given usually contains vitamins, minerals, additives, medication and direct fed microbials; none of which are considered to be minimal human interventions. To claim on a product label "naturally raised" would be even more difficult, as raising a farm animal or fish is an expression of human intervention.
Unless you're buying meat from hunted animals, it's impossible to get natural.
  1. Hormones and Antibiotics in Food - Eat Right Ontario
  2. Understanding Hormone Use in Beef - Canadian Beef
  3. Antibiotics, growth hormones and steroids - Alberta Milk
  4. McDonald’s Announcement In Keeping with Chicken Industry Direction on Antibiotic Use - Chicken Farmers of Canada


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