Verification: Where Food Comes From – Telling the Dairy Story

Published on Wed, 08/24/2016 - 4:00pm

 By Steve Weisman | Sponsored by Where Food Comes From

    We are what we eat! As consumers have become more removed from food production, they are asking more questions and are seeking validation that the food they are eating is wholesome and safe. At the same time, agricultural producers, and specifically dairy producers, have become increasingly aware of the need to provide consumers with products that are verified to be raised in a certain way to meet the demands of the marketplace.Today, grocery stores and restaurant menus are full of labels depicting hundreds of different claims about food items, which can often cause confusion. What is accurate? What is verified? The first step to validating any claim about food production is finding out where the food comes from. Where was it was raised and grown? From there, you can fill in the blanks of how, when and why. So, where can both consumers and producers turn to find a solution they can trust?

The answer lies in the work of third-party verifiers like Where Food Comes From, Inc., ( the leading agricultural and food verification and certification company in North America. Where Food Comes From and its subsidiaries (IMI Global, International Certification Services, Sterling Solutions and Validus Verification Services) offer programs and services allowing tens of thousands of food producers across all types of commodities to meet specific market needs, including public standards, private brand initiatives and international trade requirements.

Today the company offers a wide variety of verification and certification solutions, including animal identification and traceability, source verification, age verification, no added hormones, Verified Natural, grass-fed, organic, a variety of animal care and well-being claims, gluten-free certification and Non-GMO Project verification. For the livestock industry, third-party verification programs like these are the vehicle in which producers, growers, feeders, finishers and brands are able to meet specific export or private brand label requirements related to live animal production practices and procedures.

Company President Leann Saunders, who with her husband John, founded Where Food Comes From (originally as IMI Global in 1995), acknowledges the variety of market opportunities verification programs provide dairy producers. “We do a lot of work at the dairy and calf ranch level in the area of identification and traceability systems and source and age verification. Source verification and the traceability of animals through the supply chain has become especially important with the installment of the Animal Disease Traceability ruling by the USDA in recent years, which covers 100 percent of dairy cattle, making it a necessary step for all dairy producers,” Saunders explained.In addition, Where Food Comes From specializes in a variety of animal care and handling programs developed specifically for the dairy industry.

The Sterling Solutions division of Where Food Comes From offers a “Training in Animal Care & Handling” option to dairies and calf ranches as both a standalone and bundled claim with other industry-driven and USDA Process Verified programs. The assessment incorporates established practices published and maintained by the American Meat Institute, and also attends to the Five Freedoms of Animal Welfare created by the Farm Animal Welfare Council, and is a great entry point for producers looking to get started on a verification system but are not sure how or where to begin.

Similarly, the Validus division of Where Food Comes From is very active in verification and certification programs for the Dairy industry.“Our Validus division handles 100 percent of the third-party verifications for the National Milk Producer Federation’s National Dairy FARM program. FARM, the acronym for Farms Assuring Responsible Management, is open to all dairy farmers, coops and processors in the United States. The program, which was developed by independent industry experts and meets the National Dairy Animal Well-Being Initiative Principles and Guidelines, includes a comprehensive assessment of each participating dairy’s animal care practices.

In addition, Validus also offers a proprietary Dairy Animal Welfare Review Program that verifiers producers’ animal welfare practices. The program includes a comprehensive assessment of the facility’s animal care practices, along with recommendations for any improvements that may be necessary. The Animal Welfare Review Program also includes an audit option that allows producers to gain certification based on industry standard practices or specifications defined by a processor or retail customer.  “The Validus Animal Welfare Review audit is recommended for those producers required to provide suppliers with independent verification of their animal care practices, and can be customized to match the defined specifications of any food supplier, including grocery stores, food service distributors and restaurants,” details Saunders.

As an example of the importance of these types of verification systems, in early May, Dannon®, America’s leading yogurt, fresh and frozen dairy brand, announced that it is introducing the “Dannon Pledge on Sustainable Agriculture, Naturality and Transparency.” As a part of the pledge, Dannon has committed to sourcing milk exclusively from dairies engaged in the Validus Dairy Animal Welfare Review and Certification.

“This is the new reality of food production. The dairy industry has a great story to tell, and Dannon is acting upon its desire to get that story to the consumer. They want to talk about the individual farms and families supplying their milk products and their dedication to animal care, food safety, and so much more. It is these types of initiatives founded in verification that allow brands like Dannon to do tell their production story in an authentic way,” adds Saunders.

Furthermore, specific claims tied to animal feed and finished product inputs and attributes are seeing an incredible increase in demand. The Non-GMO Project, whose seal is one of the country’s fastest growing food labels, is focused on discerning the difference between foods produced with the use of plants or feeds derived from genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and those that are not. As an approved Technical Administrator for the Non-GMO Project, Where Food Comes From has verified hundreds of unique products to the standard, and inquiries to verify animal-derived products, like dairy, come in daily.

Moreover, while we often think of milk and milk products (such as yogurt and cheese) when we think of dairies, many times the beef animals produced from the dairy industry are overlooked. However, this is a vital part of the production system, and one that is a natural fit for value-added markets. Fed Holstein steers that are Source and Age Verified or that meet the Non-Hormone Treated Cattle standards and/or Certified Organic standards are in high demand. The streamlined genetics of the Holstein breed produce a very uniform carcass that packers love, and the ratable supply allows for brands to have increased predictability from their supply chains.

In the end, it is obvious that we are no longer on the cusp of things changing in the food industry – that time is now. Companies like Where Food Comes From offer authentic and accredited third-party verification and certification of specific programs and claims to provide accurate and transparent information about the food we eat, and how, where and by whom it is produced. Our ability to establish a link between consumers and dairymen looks to be our best next success story as an industry. To that end, Saunders asserts, “We always want to provide the opportunity for all those involved in the food supply chain to have voluntary market choices. The dairy industry in the U.S. is full of men and women dedicated to producing the best milk they possibly can for the consumer, and we are fortunate to have the opportunity to partner with them along the way.”