Canadian restaurant chain Earls says it won’t serve Alberta-sourced steaks and burgers anymore because the province simply doesn’t produce enough ethically-raised beef to meet their demand.

The B.C.-based company will instead source beef from a farm in Kansas where cattle roam freely in a “low-stress environment” and cows are raised without steroids, added hormones or antibiotics.

The decision to serve U.S. beef has rankled Alberta beef producers and politicians, who argue that Alberta meets ethical standards – it just doesn’t have the stamp of approval from a U.S.-based “Certified Humane” organization.

One cattle farmer called Earls’ decision “a real insult,” while former federal Conservative cabinet minister Monte Solberg accused the restaurant of “caving to hysteria.”

“The innuendo is that we don't raise our beef, our cattle, humanely, which is absolutely wrong. You're not in business if you don't. It's just part of being a cattleman,” Bob Lowe, chair of the Alberta Beef Producers, told CTV Calgary.

The decision prompted backlash on social media as some called for an Earls boycott.

An Earls spokesperson agreed that Alberta produces ethically-raised beef. The problem, according to communications manager Cate Simpson, is that the province doesn’t make enough.

“The difference between what Alberta provides and Kansas provides is nothing other than volume,” Simpson told CTV News Channel on Thursday.

Earls has 64 locations across North America, with 25 restaurants in Alberta, 20 in B.C. and a handful throughout Ontario, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, the Yukon and the U.S.

Simpson said Earls considered the possibility of sourcing “certified humane” Alberta beef for its Alberta restaurants, but the decision was ultimately made to solely serve U.S. beef.

Alberta beef producers say Earls didn’t properly consult with them to find a solution.

“We were a little disappointed with the lack of consultation,” said Rob McNabb, general manager of the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association.

“I think we could have provided some good options for Earls to consider in a certification-type program where auditing of certain production practices are done.”

The Kansas producer chosen by Earls is certified by the U.S.-based non-profit Humane Farm Animal Care, which issues the “Certified Humane Raised and Handled” label.

The certification is reserved for producers who meet a series of rules. Animals cannot be raised in cages or crates; they must be “free to do what comes naturally” such as roam in pasture or fly; they must be fed “quality food” free of animal by-products, antibiotics or growth hormones; and producers must meet certain food safety and environmental standards.

Earls pointed out in a press release that Temple Grandin, the renowned autism spokesperson and animal science professor, is among the scientists who helped develop the “humane” certification.

Alberta beef producers say a Canadian humane beef certification system is in the works and that Earls’ decision could speed up those talks.

“Quite frankly, this will provide the industry with an impetus to get into these types of programs,” McNabb said.

But Alberta ranchers looking to get the U.S. “certified humane” designation would likely need to make some production tweaks.

“The name implies that it’s only the humane treatment of animals, but it’s much more than that,” he said. “They’ve got other attributes such as not using antibiotics and growth hormones that would take a little time to change those kind of production practices.”

McNabb says that beef producers take a “prudent approach” to using antibiotics and growth hormones and called the demand for “certified humane” beef “simply a production practice that seems to be catching on in some markets.”

“It’s only government-approved products that are used, and I think the result is the product that we are providing is no less safe or wholesome than any other,” he said.

McNabb pointed out that Earls is simply one customer and that the loss of business isn’t “terribly significant” to Alberta beef producers. He says Alberta produces about $3 billion worth of beef each year and distributes it on a global scale.

With a report from CTV Calgary