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Tue 19 Aug 2008 12:11 PM

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What are you really serving your customers?

Antibiotics and growth hormones aren’t items you find on most menus, but they could be lurking in every steak you serve.

I recently had the pleasure of visiting a group of farmers in the Canadian province of Alberta who will soon be launching an office in Dubai to market their meat products throughout the Middle East.

Operating as Prairie Halal Foods (PHF), the partnership of seven companies plans to sell Halal beef, bison and elk meat to top-end restaurants in the region.

I met with the founders of one of the shareholders in this partnership, Prairie Heritage Beef Producers, at their ranch to discuss what they felt were the unique selling points of their product.

“Our ranchers raise their beef without the use of antibiotics, artificial growth hormones or animal by-products,” said Dr Christoph Weder, spokesperson and chair of marketing for Prairie Heritage Beef Producers.

“It sometimes upsets people that we promote our beef in this way because it draws attention to that fact that as a rule, farmers do use these artificial methods to stimulate growth in their cattle and that isn’t a fact that producers want the steak-eating consumer to consider.”

This stands to reason as the growing trend for healthy eating is causing the restaurant-going public in the Middle East, and indeed around the world, to seek out more natural and organic menu options.

Most industrialised models of beef production are dependent on feeding large quantities of grain to cattle in order to promote rapid growth, but this method has a negative impact on the animals themselves, and on the environment, according to Weder.

“The Heritage Angus Beef that we raise here at Spirit View Ranch is produced from handpicked cattle that graze on natural grasses, but this is not standard practice for all beef producers,” explained Prairie Heritage co-founder Erika Weder.

“We firmly believe that the health of the land and the health of the cattle are key to producing healthy beef. It seems like common sense.

“Our meat is a prime product and consumers can feel good about it too because it is supporting families that are looking out for the environment too.”

So, for ecologically-minded chefs that are concerned with serving healthy, high-quality products to their customers, perhaps it is time to look a little more closely at exactly where their meat comes from and how it is produced. I suspect that, if given the choice, many consumers would think twice about eating a chemically-enhanced steak.

Sarah Gain is the editor of Caterer Middle East.

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