Our Views Columns

Our Views Columns

Date: 12/1/2011

Title: Evaluating Certification Programs

Tom Field, PhD, NCBA executive director of producer education

Beef markets have undergone significant transformation over the past several decades resulting in a variety of market niches and opportunities based on associating breed, management practices, feeding practices and a host of other verifiable claims with beef products. The market has provided economic incentives at a variety of levels to encourage participation in supplying the needs of these various market niches. In some cases, these incentives have been significant and as a result cattle producers have shown increasing interest in learning about program requirements and the process associated with becoming certified for participation. This article is designed to serve as an informational source that provides an overview of the roles and responsibilities associated with certified programs. It is not comprehensive in scope nor does it provide endorsement of any program.

Roles and responsibilities

Standards Creating Body – The creation of the standards typically lies in the hands of a market-oriented entity that desires to create a product differentiated by a specific attribute or set of attributes. The entities involved range from branded companies, retailers who desire that suppliers meet a specific set of production and processing standards, various participants in the supply chain, trade partners and even nonprofit organizations.

USDA – USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) requires that a system be in place to verify or certify the authenticity of the attribute(s). To accomplish this mission, the USDA-AMS created a set of Process Verified Program (PVP) standards and a set of Quality System Assessment (QSA) standards to provide effective standardization with the marketing system.

Auditor – The auditor provides services under two basic categories – third party audits and second party audits. In the case of third party audits, the auditor determines whether the supplier has effectively met the requirements established by the standards. In this case, the auditing firm has no influence over the creation or modification of the standards. In the case of second party audits, the auditing firm has the opportunity to help develop and refine the standards.

Producer – The decision about participating in a certification system rests entirely on the independent decision-making process of an individual producer. It is absolutely critical that producers perform due diligence in determining which programs, if any, they chose to adopt. Even if a producer sees a quick market opportunity, they are advised to carefully and thoughtfully do their homework before participating in any program. The following questions are a starting point for making the decision to participate in a certification program:

  • What are the standards and how do they fit into existing and future operational needs of the producer?
  • To what market(s) will the program provide access? Do those markets align with the producer’s philosophies, management system and business goals?
  • What are the philosophies and objectives of those who designed the standards and are they in harmony with the producer’s business values?
  • What costs will be associated with meeting the standards and are the returns sufficient to warrant incurring those costs?
  • How will meeting the standards in terms of day-to-day management, record keeping and data analysis impact operations, employees and management?
  • What are the training requirements for employees and management?
  • Do the requirements create new needs from my suppliers, partners, or customers?

Producers are strongly advised to do extensive homework about a program and its impacts on their business operations (both short and long term) before deciding to participate. Remember not all that glitters turns out to be gold!

A good starting point to gain information is to visit the following websites:

USDA Approved PVP Program – http://www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/getfile?dDocName=STELPRD3320450

USDA Approved QSA Programs – http://www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/getfile?dDocName=STELPRD3107505

USDA “Never Ever” Program – http://www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/getfile?dDocName=STELPRDC5066028

USDA Official Listing Approved Companies to the Livestock Feeding Claims Audit Program – http://www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/getfile?dDocName=STELPRDC5075806

USDA resource list concerning animal well-being programs and audits – http://awic.nal.usda.gov/nal_display/index.php?info_center=3&topic_id=1782&tax_level=2&tax_subject=170

Once a cattle producer has good information in hand, communicates with suppliers and customers and carefully weighs the benefits and drawbacks of participating in a certification system, then a good decision can be made.

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