As the Japanese and other foreign markets reopen to U.S. beef, there is increasing demand for source- and age-verified cattle.
New beef export regulations have clearly defined the meaning of age and source verification, as age and source claims must be documented and verified through a recognized U.S. Department of Agriculture program, such as the USDA Process Verified Program or the USDA Quality System Assessment Program.
Without getting into a detailed discussion about requirements for the export market, here is a review of these programs, which both provide suppliers of agricultural products and services the opportunity to assure customers of their ability to provide consistent quality products or services, according to the USDA Web site.
Process verified. Based on a documented quality management system, suppliers are awarded verification points for specific programs or portions of programs under the USDA Process Verified Program, according to the USDA Web site.
The program is the highest level of certification, as companies have certified their entire production process or large portions of their process through it. This includes detailed procedures, record systems and audit process.
In the case of age and source verification, the program creates a documented procedure – which can be audited – for the collection and transfer of age and source information.
There are currently 25 process verified program companies or organizations, including beef processors (Smithfield Beef Group, PM Beef Group, Creekstone Farms) and information management companies (AgInfoLink, eMerge, IMI Globale).
Obtaining this certification is complex and extremely expensive. A portion of the company’s employees will be dedicated to maintaining the integrity of the program, managing records and handling audits. The certification is not something an individual producer or even a county group of producers will likely undertake.
Quality system assessment. Based on a documented quality management system, products under the USDA Quality System Assessment Program must meet specified requirements, which may be identified by the supplier or in a USDA Export Verification Program, according to the USDA Web site.
This program is similar to the process verified program in many ways, although the quality system assessment program generally involves certification of a system that may involve several entities.
Through the USDA, companies or groups certify a system of records and procedures that can verify their claims to specific attributes of their product.
For source and age verification, most beef processors have an approved quality system assessment for exporting beef. This assessment describes how age and source will be documented by the packer with cooperation from source feedlots and their cow-calf producer suppliers.
As with the process verified program, quality system assessment certification requires considerable records, labor, and capital to establish. The program is regularly audited and must have auditing procedures as part of its certification.
Entities with approved quality system assessment programs include packers and large beef feeders (AgriBeef, Cargill, and Texas Cattle Feeders).
Role in exporting beef. The USDA has established Beef Export Verification Program requirements for selling beef internationally, which outline the specific requirements for each country, including what products may be exported, processing regulations, and stipulations for the cattle producing the beef.
In the case of Japan, a specific requirement is that the beef be from cattle 20 months old or younger. For most other countries (Hong Kong, Mexico, Canada), the age requirement is 30 months or younger.
These export verification age regulations must be met through cattle from a process verified program that requires age verification or a quality system assessment program that requires age verification.
Effects on producers. A signed affidavit will not substitute for documentation provided through a USDA-approved program. For calves to be truly source and age verified, they must be enrolled in the process verified program or quality system assurance programs.
Thereby, these calves would be recognized in the industry as source and age verified and this verification could be utilized by cattle feeders and processors to fulfill the requirements of their quality system assurance for export.
Cattle certified for age through the process verified program should meet the documentation requirements for any cattle feeder or packer (multiple quality system assurance programs).
Currently, producers retaining ownership are working with their feeders to provide the necessary documentation and paperwork to fulfill the requirements of a packer quality system assurance. These programs are specific for each packer, and each has different forms and procedures.
In many cases, the producer needs to receive training from the feedlot as part of the requirement of the quality system assurance. In some instances, producers who have sold feeder cattle have been contacted by feedlots requesting the information for a quality system assurance.
Preparation. Do you need to enroll your cattle in a quality system assurance or process verified program right now? No, however you and your marketing partners should consider discussing how you may provide the information when the opportunity presents itself.
Also, it will be important to continue to keep up with the situation, as programs and opportunities are constantly evolving.
The key item in this new era of source and age verification is records and documentation. Unfortunately, there are no standardized forms that fit all process verified or quality system assurance programs.
Each program has its own forms, though the required information is essentially the same. By keeping certain basic types of information, you can be ready for source and age verification:
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