Add value to the calf crop with third-party verification for value-added programs
IMI Global is the nation’s largest auditing company for third-party verified programs, which are often completed in steps.
Step one: Source and Age Program
Step one is the Source and Age Program.
“The U.S. beef industry started source and age verification after the bovine spongiform encephalopathy problems in the early 2000s when we got locked out of the Japanese market,” says Clint Berry, a fifth-generation cattleman and Superior Livestock representative.
“The source was ranch of origin, and at the time, cattle had to be under 20 months of age,” Berry continues. “The requirement is now 30 months. Outside of a handful of animals, we don’t harvest cattle in the U.S. over 30 months of age. So, the age requirement is a moot point and not a critical piece.”
However, Berry notes the source – the ranch of origin – is still critical in a lot of these programs, and IMI’s data shows producers are gaining $3.50 per hundredweight on program cattle.
Next, is non-hormone treated cattle (NHTC) verification, which requires producers to decide whether they will implant their cattle or not and whether they will enroll in NHTC.
According to Berry, NHTC is an export program created to allow product to be sent to the European Union.
“Producers can’t implant cattle and enroll in the program. They also have to be third-party verified and carry electronic identification tags to be eligible for export,” Berry explains. “Just because a producer doesn’t implant, doesn’t mean cattle are NHTC verified. They also have to be third-party verified.”
This is also crucial for the Chinese market because China doesn’t allow hormones as well.
“They haven’t required exports to be NHTC verified, but they pull samples at their plants at kill time, so a lot of packers are requiring NHTC to put product in the Chinese marketplace,” he adds.
Step two: Verified Natural
The second step is Verified Natural, a domestic-only program created for anything but the U.S. domestic supply.
“It’s a service or classification we use to sell product, and it means there are no hormones, no implants, no antibiotics of any kind and no ionophores,” Berry explains. “If a producer buys bagged feed from a co-op, they need to read labels. Verified Natural is a “never-ever scenario” – those cattle can never have any additives in their lifetime. It is third-party audited, as well.”
Berry notes nine times out of 10, if cattle are Verified Natural, they are also NHTC verified because neither can have implants.
“These two programs are often joined together, but we do see some NHTC-verified cattle that are not Verified Natural because they might have had an antibiotic or an ionophore in their feed ration at some point. However, they weren’t implanted so they are still NHTC verified,” he says.
BeefCare and GAP
Two of the more “social” programs are BeefCare and Global Animal Partnership (GAP), which were created by Whole Foods, so all GAP products are targeted at the Whole Foods supply chain, which has now been purchased by Amazon.
“To be able to market beef through Amazon’s stores, a producer has to be in the GAP program,” Berry states.
He further explains, “To be in GAP, cattle have to be natural and raised under specific standards. They don’t have to be Verified Natural, but most of the time, in our system, if they are GAP, they are also Verified Natural, and if they are Verified Natural, they are also NHTC, and if they are NHTC they are also source and aged.”
Two years ago IMI Global launched BeefCare, a domestic program to address sustainability.
“The difference between BeefCare and GAP – and a refreshing difference, in my opinion – is it was created by beef producers to tell their story on how they are raising cattle, versus a retailer telling producers how they want them to raise cattle,” Berry says.
“I’m not saying any of the GAP practices are wrong, but having the flexibility to be able to approach it from a science base is an advantage,” he continues.
“Some problems in the GAP program are requirements that are not science based – they are emotional salesmanship, which is fine. I am a capitalist, and if someone wants to raise cattle this way and get paid for it, I’m happy with it. Yet, if we all implemented some of those strategies, it would have a negative effect on production, and I don’t think it’s a good thing,” he adds.
Berry explains BeefCare gives producers more flexibility and allows them to utilize a custom blend of third-party verification programs to suit their specific operation.
“They can have Verified Natural cattle, GAP cattle, NHTC-verified only cattle, or cattle that are all of the above or none of the above,” he says. “Some producers are selling conventionally-fed BeefCare cattle and there could be a few calves on the load that had to be doctored as babies or maybe for foot rot at one point or pinkeye or had Bovatec in their feed ration or were implanted, but they are still BeefCare cattle because they are following the protocols of the program, which meets the social, environmental and humane handling criteria”
“This is an opportunity for beef producers to differentiate as needed in the marketplace,” he continues. “I applaud this effort because it is the first time in 25 years of marketing experience I’ve seen a program that wasn’t a requirement of non-scientific based production models.”
“In the past, most of the time a value-added program was actually taking away a science-based technology – like being able to treat a sick animal – and BeefCare doesn’t do this. It is pretty new, and I am excited to see how the program grows in the next few years,” Berry concludes.
Heather Smith Thomas is a corresponding writer for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to email@example.com.