Process verified: USDA program provides tool for backing marketing claimsWritten by Natasha Wheeler
“We view the USDA Process Verified Program (PVP) as a beacon that consumers can look for. The USDA Process Verified shield on the package of product assures them the U.S. government stands behind all of the different process points a company has established related to the quality of their products,” states Craig Morris.
Morris, deputy administrator of USDA Agricultural Marketing Service’s (AMS) Livestock, Poultry and Seed program, explains that the program is voluntary and fully user-fee funded, to which no tax dollars are contributed.
“It is fully paid for by those who avail themselves of the service,” he says.
When a company adheres to the standards of the PVP, it means that company has adopted rigorous quality management systems, internationally known as the ISO 9000 Quality Management Standards; allowed USDA to serve as an auditor to ensure they meet those standards, as well as those it has set for itself; and agreed to provide plain language definitions to describe their marketing claims.
Producers who are interested in obtaining certification are encouraged to contact AMS directly to get support and information about the program.
“We can certainly put producers in touch with further processors who are part of PVP, and we can definitely walk them through what is required for an individual producer to become process verified if they are interested,” comments Morris.
By participating in the program, producers have the opportunity to become part of a marketing chain that can bring price premiums.
For example, products backed by PVP can be passed on to processors with the third-party assurance from USDA, guaranteed to meet the standards of the processing company’s finished goods.
“Essentially, the program allows for producers to make their products available for sale to a much wider range of customers who have very exacting supplier requirements,” he says.
As a voluntary program, producers can choose to join PVP, but it is not a top-down requirement or barrier into the marketplace.
“Producers and processors choose to participate in PVP because there is a price benefit. They choose to pay the cost of becoming approved under the program only if they are going to recover their investment,” Morris explains.
Those who use the program are likely to benefit from premiums that can be gained from differentiation of their products.
Currently, the most growth in the PVP is seen in audits related to the use of antibiotics.
“A little over two years ago, the only programs we had in place related to antibiotic use were ‘no antibiotics ever’ programs. We weren’t casting judgment on whether that was a better product or not, we were just verifying that product coming through a no antibiotic ever system,” he notes.
It soon became clear there was a market demand for producers to demonstrate their ability to use antibiotics in animal agriculture without negatively impacting human health.
Working together with PEW Charitable Trust, a Certified Responsible Antibiotic Use program was created for audit under PVP, and it is now the largest area of growth for the program.
“Any producer who’s interested in having their system certified for responsible antibiotic use can contact us, and we can verify that,” he remarks.
PVP is a solution to verify those on-farm systems that producers use to create quality products and differentiate them in the marketplace.
“We wanted a mechanism we could employ to have confidence when we put the USDA name on products, the things sellers of products are promising to be true, and those marketing claims are actually being followed through on,” Morris says.
Using PVP, producers can market their non-genetically modified (GM) or non-genetically engineered (GE) products, grass-fed animals, humane handling and processing procedures, cut specifications or a host of other standards, all backed by a USDA auditing system.
“Another interesting point is, a lot of the process points we verify aren’t typically seen as marketing claims affirmatively on the package,” notes Morris, “but it is a way companies can assure their customers and shareholders, for example, that some of the more egregious scenes of animal abuse that have been aired quite extensively are not occurring on their premises.”
A complete list of PVP certified entities is available online.
“We’re really proud of this program. We think it’s doing good things for agriculture and helping those that are really interested in their food to get some actual facts, not necessarily just a lot of marketing,” states Morris.