The head of the Canadian Cattlemen's Association says Earls restaurants didn't give ranchers on this side of the border a fair shot before turning to a U.S. supplier to get humanely produced beef.

Rob McNabb says the Canadian industry is in the process of developing a program that would meet the same standards that the Vancouver-based restaurant chain is seeking — beef raised and slaughtered humanely and produced without antibiotics, steroids or growth hormones.

Earls announced on Wednesday that it will source its beef from a Kansas ranch that is accredited by the non-profit group Humane Farm Animal Care.

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Alberta Beef Producers chairman Bob Lowe says the decision by Earls to switch to U.S beef is 'a slap in the face.' (CBC)

The Virginia-based organization operates a program called Certified Humane that inspects farms, ranches and slaughter facilities, and certifies meat and dairy products. 

According to the organization, products that carry the Certified Humane label come from animals that have not received "unnecessary antibiotics," are not overcrowded in confinement systems and live on farms whose farmers "receive a fair price for their efforts."

McNabb says while only some ranchers carry the Certified Humane label, many Canadian producers meet the same standards and the industry as a whole is moving in that direction.

"I would suggest that Canadian cattle producers are second to none in ensuring the welfare of their animals," he said.

The association has been working with the Calgary-based Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef on standards for how beef is produced, which will include humane standards.

"And we're just on the cusp of being able to roll that out," McNabb said.

Earls made its switch to a U.S. supplier without consulting the Canadian industry, McNabb said.

"To my knowledge, they hadn't consulted with either the Canadian Cattlemen's Association or the Alberta Beef Producers."

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Earls says it will use a U.S. supplier to meet its criteria for humanely produced meat. (Neil Herland/CBC)

"It sounded like they talked to their existing supply chain or their suppliers, but of course our industry is much larger than that," McNabb said. "And, as I say, I'm not aware that they spoke with us at all."

Alberta Beef Producers chair Bob Lowe says Earls is insinuating that Canadian ranchers do not raise their animals in a humane fashion.

"It's a slap in the face. I'm a producer and I got quite mad," he said.

"If we raised our cattle in an inhumane manner, we wouldn't be in business."

Earls tried using Alberta beef, company says

Cate Simpson, communications manager for Earls, says the company tried very hard to stick with Canadian suppliers.

"We worked with the Alberta cattle for years and we worked with many of the Certified Humane suppliers in Alberta," she said.

"The Alberta beef was great beef, it just simply didn't have enough supply. And they know that. They know that we worked with them for a couple of years and we weren't able to get the supply."

Simpson says if the domestic beef industry responds with more certified farms, it will reconsider buying Canadian.

Lowe says the switch seems to be backfiring on Earls, judging from the response on social media.

"That makes me feel pretty good," he said. "You've got to thank consumers for being a little bit smarter than retailers."