Animal Welfare Review Program with Validus

Most people know that before you ever purchase your food, it goes through multiple steps and processes to reach your plate.  Here at Where Food Comes From, it is our responsibility to share with you on the stories behind your food and those processes it goes through to reach your plate. The farmers that grow our food truly are the point of change in the food industry.  As we introduce you to farmers we partner with through our programs and certifications, you’re getting an inside look into the variety of choices they make daily to ensure they are producing food in a responsible way.  This means understanding practices like the treatment of animals, which leads us to our Validus division and the work they do in assessing animal care.

Who is Validus?

Late last year in our New Year’s blog article we briefly touched on our Validus Certified programs.  Today we get a chance to dive deeper into Validus’ Animal Welfare Review and all that it takes to evaluate animal care and wellbeing within this program.

Let us introduce you to the  Validus Certifiedprograms.  Validus ensures food is produced according to specific and transparent production practices.  The best part is, like many of our programs, all of their practices go through extensive auditing in order to be certified. As a result, you know that not only have participating producers agreed to follow certain practices, but they have proven to do so as well.

Certification from Validus covers criteria specific to animal welfare, environmental integrity and  worker care. For those who have been evaluated and approved in all three Validus programs, they receive the prestigious Validus CARE certification – which is the equivalent of receiving an Emmy in the food verification world. Now that we’ve explained a little bit about Validus, let’s take a deeper look into the Animal Welfare Review program.

Validus Animal Welfare Review Certification

Validus has Animal Welfare Review certifications for multiple species, but the most widely used and prevalent in the industry today is the Animal Welfare Review program for Dairy (also known as AWRD).  Accredited to both the USDA Process Verified Program requirements and International Organization for Standardization (ISO) Technical Specification (TS) 34700 for Animal Welfare Management/General Requirements and Guidance for Organizations in the Food Supply Chain, the Validus AWRD standard comes with some serious clout.

Once a company or farm applies for AWRD certification the review process begins.  This consists of several steps, which includes interviews, onsite audits, and document and process assessments. Certification is awarded to farms who demonstrate compliance with specified criteria, including:

  • Proper animal handling and management
  • Herd health procedures and care
  • Food and water quality standards
  • Housing that promotes animal comfort and cleanliness
  • On-farm security procedures
  • Proper care of special needs animals

The Experts

 To ensure these standards are upheld, Validus assembles an expert committee for each sector; animal welfare, environmental health and worker care.   Each sector consists of five individuals who are considered experts in their given field of study.  They listen to suggestions from participating farms, consider new and emerging industry research and technologies, and review the current standards annually in order to continuously improve the evaluation criteria.  Did you hear that?  They listen and make changes!  This ensures that the standard is always current and is always striving to improve and shift with both industry and consumer expectations.

Over the next few weeks we will be sharing information about the other programs supported by Validus. In the meantime, if you want to gain more insights about these programs visit the Validus Certified website.

Getting to Know Rural Route 1 Farms

“Beef, it’s what for dinner” … and many times lunch and breakfast as well!  For many Americans it doesn’t get much better than the thought of sinking your teeth into a juicy steak cooked just the way we like it. I’m also sure most of us know the difference between a great steak and a good steak.  As consumers are more removed from their food than ever before, it can be difficult to understand what goes into the difference between “good” and “great” when it comes to beef.  This week we get a chance to tell the story of Allan Ortmeier with Rural Route 1 Farms.  Let’s head out to Scribner Nebraska to learn more.

Behind the Scenes

Starting as a simple dream in 1958, the idea of owning a family farm went from a dream and transformed into a thriving farmstead several decades later.  Continuing that simple dream and adding to their father’s legacy is Allan Ortmeier and his brothers, Dave and John.  In 2005, the brothers came to the realization that they had an opportunity to improve the quality of beef for their family, neighbors and customers. Working from sun up to sun down Rural Route 1 Farms went to work to make their beef the best, while ensuring what they advertised was exactly what you were getting.

With this new vision the farm began to prosper like never before.  In late 2015, Allan and his brothers reached out to Creekstone Farms Premium Beef to start processing and selling their beef, which was NHTC, Verified Natural Beef, GAP and Non-GMO Project verified.  Since then, Creekstone Farms has been receiving all cattle from Rural Route 1 Farms.

To Allan and his brothers, the quality of their meat is of the utmost importance.  Allan is very proud of what Rural Route 1 Farms has been able to accomplish with their hard work and clear vision. In the last two years, the farm has processed 35 head a week.  They have graded nearly 100% Choice, and of those 53% were Prime, and only 2 head were graded Select. Allan and his family truly want everyone to experience first-rate nutritious beef and their results speak for themselves.

Audit Services

For more than five years, Rural Route 1 Farms has produced Non-GMO Project verified beef, along with being NHTC, Verified Natural Beef and Global Animal Partnership (GAP) verified by Where Food Comes From. Because of these verifications, the farm has recently been able to take advantage of shipping product to China, Saudi Arabia and the EU.

The Benefits

“If you won’t eat it why would you feed it to your cattle?” was a question that resonated with Allan and his family and ultimately led to them to make a change on what they were feeding their cattle, switching from grass to Non-GMO corn. “Yes, cows can eat grass, but why do that when corn taste better?” says Allan. Everything the cows eat is Non-GMO. With the assistance of IMI Global and Where Food Comes From, Rural Route 1 Farms was able to make the transition from commercial to a highly restricted and specialized feed lot.  The Non-GMO corn feed may not be the next item on the menu for you, but the cows sure do love it!

Head over to the Rural Route 1 website to watch this video and learn more about the farm!  Interested in learning where to purchase their beef? The website will answer that question for you as well.

 

GAP 5-Step Animal Welfare – A Look Inside the Program

Over the last several weeks we have had the unique opportunity to take our readers along with us as we met with some of the farmers and ranchers that we provide our third-party verification services for.  Sharing their stories with you has been a wonderful experience, as connecting you with those that have a passion for animal welfare is a passion of ours! We know you love food and want it to taste great, but you also have a desire for more education around that food, where it comes from and how it is produced.   You’re connecting with your food on new levels, which means having a better understanding about where your food comes from.

For example, did you know those chocolate chips in your cookie are produced with ingredients from a fruit grown on a tree?  Or did you know that the handling of an animal could affect the quality, taste, or look of the meat that inevitably makes it onto your plate? Expectations on how our food is produced are changing the food industry; from environmental standards to animal welfare.  Better food quality means verifying producers are engaged in specific processes, which is the purpose of standards, audits and certification.  One example of this is in the evaluation of animal care and wellbeing, so this week we’re diving into the Global Animal Partnership (GAP) 5-Step Animal Welfare standard.  Let’s head out to the farm! 

What is the 5-Step Animal Welfare Program?
Before meat or other products can display the certified label, a third-party audit must be conducted at each farm/ranch in a given supply chain that wants to label their product as GAP certified.

First, let’s understand what that means to you.  Below is some helpful information on the three components that GAP uses to define farm animal welfare.

  • Health & Productivity – raising animals so that they’re healthy and productive with good quality feed and water, shelter, and free from disease, illness and injury (but treating any animals that get sick).
  • Natural Living – raising animals in environments that allow them to express their natural behaviors effectively – both indoors and outdoors
  • Emotional Well Being – raising animals in environments that provide them the ability to be inquisitive, happy and playful and minimize boredom, frustration, fear, stress and pain, as much as possible.

Understanding what farm animal welfare encompasses is important.  Let’s also take a look at the “5” steps below as defined by GAP.

The Standards
GAP was created in 2008, with an underlying commitment to collaboration with stakeholders involved in animal agriculture and production.  Over the years, GAP  has focused on continual improvements to animal care, management and animal welfare with their farm and ranch partners, while at the same time connecting with other segments of the food industry (e.g. retail, manufacturing, etc.) to grow awareness about animal welfare and their program.

GAP truly has a unique process demonstrating their commitment to transparency in labeling. They blend scientific research and practical knowledge to develop a thorough and evidence-based process.  GAP covers beef, broiler chickens, bison, pigs, turkeys, goats, sheep, and laying hens and all of their standards are shared with the public to solicitate feedback as they are developed and/or changed  over time. This allows you to share ideas and perspectives with GAP directly, creating a collaborative process for continuous improvement in the standard in a way that allows all stakeholders – from producers to consumers – to have a say in what matters most to them.

Verification
As you know, the core service of Where Food Comes From is third-party verification.  Our IMI Global division is accredited by  GAP to complete audits on every farm that is seeking a GAP certification – with audits taking place on every operation every 15 months.  The GAP program covers the entire life of the animal, from the birth of a pig or hatching of an egg to finished product processing. You name it, they cover it.  

Why GAP?
In a recent GAP survey, 63% of consumers look for labels that call-out how the animal was raised when purchasing the products.  When it comes to making choices for yourself and your family, transparency is extremely important.  So why GAP?  Their 5 – Step program allows them to be transparent so you know first-hand how an animal was raised.  As customer demand increases, GAP is available to help you tell your story to consumers, raising the understanding about animal welfare in addition to increasing the use of the label.  The last 10 years has been an exciting time for GAP, and they don’t plan on slowing down anytime soon.

Learn more about GAP at www.globalanimalpartnership.org.
View the IMI Global GAP program flier here and you can also contact us to enroll today!

 

Take Pride In Your Flowers – Wild Lark Farm’s Story

Love is in the air and it wouldn’t be Valentine’s week without the perfect bouquet of flowers.  Of course, people have been cultivating flowers long before advertisers and marketers started heavily promoting holidays like Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day.  We love flowers because they’re colorful, smell great, and their beauty can perk up any room or mood.  As the seasons change, so do the selection of flowers you might find, but one thing that never changes is just how beautiful a fresh bouquet of flowers can make any room feel.  This week we put a focus on the Certified American Grown cut flower program, which ensures that the flowers you buy in store are in fact grown in the United States.   Our newest addition to the program is Wild Lark Farm, where there’s always something in bloom. We get to go field to vase with owner Terri Barr and discuss her passion as a grower.

Getting to Know Wild Lark Farm

Wild Lark Farm’s owner, Terri Barr, grew up on a farm in Kansas where her family grew corn, wheat, milo and soybeans.  I’m sure it doesn’t come as a shock that her parents also tended to a large garden. In fact, every year Terri’s mom would let her and her sisters pick out whatever flowers caught their eye at their local small-town nursery.  Each of them would get their very own plant and, of course, they would pick out the most brightly colored flowers they could find. Terri had lots of great memories like that throughout her childhood that would eventually lead her back to what she loves most.

Shortly after high school, she left home to attend college in Oklahoma. During that time, she got married and started working at a civil engineering firm. Terri loved her job and co-workers but wanted to find her way back outside, to her true passion: growing.  Fast forward 15 years, to Claremore, Oklahoma, where Terri finds herself with 40 acres and a dream. She had the opportunity in 2017 to visit the Pacific Northwest and wanted to bring that flower experience back home to Oklahoma.  Armed with all the experiences of a farm kid, in 2018 she began Wild Lark Farm.

The response for Terri has been overwhelmingly positive. We asked Terri why she loves flower farming and she said, “The obvious one is that I spend a great amount of time in rows upon rows of flowers. I love the excitement people have when they first see the farm, and I love the joy others express when they are gifted flowers from the farm.” Terri has made countless connections through her flower-cultivating talents, a truly humbling experience.

The Certification Process

Terri takes her farming practices very seriously, which means providing the best product possible to her customers.  The farm is committed to growing specialty and heirloom flowers bringing the best Oklahoma has to offer and proud to be the first Oklahoma flower farm to achieve Certified American Grown status.

By obtaining the Certified American Grown certification, Wild Lark Farm is a part of a unified coalition of farmers in the U.S. that provide the only third-party guarantee in the floral industry.  The third-party verification service is provided by none other than Where Food Comes From.  Not only does it identify the origin of the flowers or foliage but it ensures that the flowers and bouquets were assembled in the United States.

What are the Benefits?

The Certified American Grown program helps connect flower farms in the United States to their customers.  This group of farmers is dedicated to the same principles and standards:

  • ORIGIN: flowers and foliage are grown in the U.S. by American farmers.
  • ASSEMBLYAll ingredients in mixed bouquets are 100% grown AND assembled in the U.S.

Farms participating in this certification participate in a rigorous audit process that allows them to carry the Certified American Grown logo to their packaging and marketing materials. Just like Terri, more and more flower farmers are seeking the certification because it promotes the flower business in a new and strategic way.

“It was important to me to let the people of Oklahoma know that I take growing very seriously. ‘I’m dedicated to growing top-quality flowers and foliage, and I wanted a platform that supports and encourages this cause. I feel the level of accountability required promotes mindfulness in both the grower and the buyer.”

– Terri Barr Wild Lark Farms

If you’re a flower farmer and want to learn more about American Grown flower movement, click here to get Certified! Or, if you want purchase flowers for an upcoming event from Wild Lark Farm, visit their Contact Us page.

 

 

 

Increasing Popularity for Organic Foods

It’s been a great start to the new year, and with this new year has come a renewed interest for many in making changes for ourselves and our families.  Undoubtedly you are very familiar with seeing many types of fruits, vegetables and meats marketed as organic.  Even if you don’t load your cart with all organic food, you have probably had that moment when you selected an organic avocado or tomato over a non-organic, disregarding the price difference, because you internally wanted to make a different decision about what your family is eating.  While organic is now a mainstay on our grocers’ shelves, we wanted to take a closer look into the nuances of what makes organic, “organic,” and how we here at Where Food Comes From play a part in that verification process.

What does organic mean?

There can be some confusion when it comes to understanding what organic means.  Some consumers assume it means natural, but the word natural doesn’t really get into the details of what organic is.  Organic foods are foods made without synthetic chemicals or modified components like fertilizers or irradiation.  As part of the certification process the USDA even requires organic farmers to consider impact to the environment by improving the quality of water and soil.  This also includes helping to preserve wildlife, wetlands, and woodland areas to promote ecological balance.  As you can see, the requirements don’t just focus on the actual food but also on the environment related to the growth and processing of that organic food.

Reasons Consumers Want Organic

Many consumers have switched to organic because they believe it’s the healthier option and even tastes better than the non-organic counterparts as organic foods do not contain imitation flavors.  Other consumers are buying organic because they are simply concerned about antibiotics, chemicals, additives, and pesticides used in the production of their food and feel that certified organic foods provide them the necessary transparency to feel confident in the foods they purchase.  In 2017, the Organic Trade Association reported organic food sales hit $45.2 billion and is projected to increase in the coming years.  As a result, manufacturers will need to get creative with the increasing demand.  Consumers want more than just traditional food options for breakfast, lunch and dinner and, because of this, even organic snack foods are increasing in popularity.  Organic snack foods range from items such as potato chips and tortilla chips to bagels, pretzels, cookies and even chocolates and raisins.

Organic Labeling

The USDA has a strict process when it comes to organic products.  In order to carry the label, there are certain criteria that products and processors must meet.  This includes the following:

  • Produced with No genetically modified organisms – Read the Policy to Learn More
  • Produced with Only allowed substances – View List Here
  • Follow All USDA organic regulations and overseen by a USDA National Organic authorized certifying agent

How Does WFCF Support National Organic Program (NOP)?

The organic market is growing rapidly and is not showing any signs of slowing down.  Today, the USDA reports there are more than 22,000 organic approved farms in the United States.  In order to carry the organic label, a product, its ingredients and all of its manufacturing processes must be evaluated to the USDA National Organic Program as required by law in the United States.  Where Food Comes From plays a unique role in ensuring these standards and processes are upheld for consumers through its two organic Accredited Certifying Agencies – A Bee Organic and International Certification Services, Inc. (ICS). Each of these divisions specializes in organic certification for all types of food products.  ICS has been a leader in establishing organic standards and processes in the United States for the last 35 years, and A Bee specializes in certifying quite a few unique product categories, include apiary, hydroponics and wild harvest crops.

To learn more about the world of organic certification, visit the sites below:

Visit the NOP website here.
View the ICS Organic website here.
View the A Bee Organic website here.

Behind the Scenes of the Poultry Industry : Miller Poultry & James Lambright’s Story

Welcome back to another exciting audit with Where Food Comes From (WFCF)!  In the second installment of our audit series, we head to Northern Indiana, a state known for farmland and fast cars, and in our case, the long standing family-owned Miller Poultry brand.  They are one of the few in the industry that is integrated through all aspects of raising their birds – from hens laying eggs to full grown chickens ready to head to town. On this trip we had the opportunity to sit down with James Lambright, one of the farmers raising chickens for Miller Poultry, to learn more about how he and his family go about raising happy and healthy birds.  But first, let’s discuss how Miller Poultry operates!

Getting to know Miller Poultry

As we mentioned above, Miller Poultry is known as a vertically integrated poultry company, which means they have complete control of their entire supply chain.  Miller Poultry owns its breeder flocks, which is the stage where the eggs are laid prior to heading off to the hatchery.  At the hatchery, as you might expect, the eggs are incubated, hatched, sorted and then delivered to a broiler farm, which is what James Lambright operates (broiler is the standard term for any bird raised for meat).  Once the broiler chickens are approximately 42 days of age, which is when they are fully grown, they are transported from the farm to a processing facility in town.

Farms like Lambright’s provide day-to-day care and management of the chickens with close oversight from Miller Poultry, whom provides all feed and any other necessary products to ensure the health and wellbeing of the birds.  Miller Poultry also sends team members to each of their partner farms on a weekly basis to assess the flocks.  While there, they observe feed, water, litter conditions, air quality and bird health, and work with the farm on any necessary adjustments to their management to ensure the chickens are thriving.

Behind the Scenes with James and Miller Poultry

Family man, entrepreneur, wood-worker, and partner farm for Miller Poultry, James Lambright is quite the successful and busy man. James has been raising chickens for Miller Poultry for over a decade, and loves the opportunity it has provided for him.  He certainly enjoys the time working from home to provide for, and spend time with, his family.  But, James doesn’t limit himself to just raising poultry on his farm, as he also raises cattle and sheep, and tends to a small orchard.  Aside from being a farmer, James also owns a woodworking business making custom furniture and cabinets…a busy man indeed.

During our time with James he shared a memorable story about an interaction in a local super market with a shopper.  As James was shopping, he noticed a woman trying to decide which chicken brand she should select.  She read the labels carefully on both packages and placed the Miller Poultry chicken in her cart.  James smiled and kindly approached her to thank her, while explaining that he raised chickens for Miller Poultry and, in turn, she thanked him for providing such a great product. This kind of interaction is a perfect example of the strong community ties to the farm and the passion that James has for the work that he does.  James knows that Miller Poultry cares deeply for their employees, neighbors, and community, and is proud to be a part of the Miller Poultry family and brand.

Auditing Services
Our WFCF team audits the Lambright farm to the Certified Organic and Global Animal Partnership 5-Step Animal Welfare Rating (GAP) standards.  These programs are evident at farms across the Miller Poultry supply chain, as they take animal management and care very seriously, which is evident in their dedication to these third-party verification standards. In addition, Miller Poultry also utilizes other auditing services to ensure their chickens meet a very specific set of requirements, such as No Anti-biotics Ever, the National Chicken Council standard, and the Non-GMO Project standard for feed.

Our Story, Our Choices

Each time you go to the grocery store you are able to choose what food to bring home to your family.  Knowledge is power, and when you purchase third-party verified chicken products, like the Miller Poultry brand, this gives you the opportunity to support the hardworking farms you can trust and believe in.

We’re happy that you could virtually come along with us this week to Northern Indiana to learn about James and Miller Poultry.  Miller Poultry encourages their customers to share their experiences with their brand.  So, if you’ve recently purchased their products, be sure to give them a shout! They’d love to hear from you because they only achieve their goal through their customers.  If you want to learn more about where you can purchase verified foods or learn more about our programs, visit us at www.wherefoodcomesfrom.com. And, as always, be sure to keep an eye out on our blog for more exciting stories along our audit trail!

      

   

 

From Seed to Shelf – A Glimpse Into Hemp Verification

As you may have recently read over the last few weeks, in December Where Food Comes From was named the Program Administrator for the new U.S. Hemp Authority TM verification program. Where Food Comes From and Validus Verification Services, known for socially responsible practices like animal welfare, will serve the hemp growers and those seeking to display the certified designation on their labeling, advertising and marketing. It’s truly an interesting time for the hemp industry.

There is no doubt that hemp is here to stay.  This multipurpose plant has the capability to produce all kinds of resources from clothing to food to paper.  With the demand increasing for hemp-based products and hemp in general, it’s quickly growing in popularity across the globe.  As hemp continues to grow, no pun intended, there’s much to learn including educating consumers about the misconceptions of hemp.

“Our selection to administer this program puts Where Food Comes From at the forefront of a major new health and wellness movement in the U.S. today.”

John Saunders, CEO of Where Food Comes From, Inc.

The development of the U.S. Hemp Authority TM  Certified program demonstrates commitment toward high standards and transparency with hemp cultivation.  Once growers pass the third-party audit they will be licensed with the certified seal of approval.  This lets you know as the customer that the hemp product you’re purchasing has been checked for quality, safety, and consistency.

The 2014 Farm Bill allowed farmers to start pilot programs for hemp alongside their agricultural programs. As of 2018, a new bill allows farmers to grow hemp with all the protections traditional farming receives.  This Farm Bill allows farmers to legally grow hemp, which  means more CBD products on the shelves. Through this bill, hemp will no longer be considered a controlled substance but rather take its place alongside all other types of traditional farming.

In addition to legalizing hemp, legislation also includes medical quality of cannabidiol also known as CBD, which is becoming widely accepted to treat certain medical issues. CBD is known to treat chronic pain, anxiety and many other things. Bloomberg reports the legal market of CBD could reach $20 billion by 2020.  Perhaps this will change individual perception about this useful plant.

We know hemp has an even bigger role to play in future, including being the catalyst for other innovations and practical everyday uses.  In order to get there, the U.S. Hemp Authority TM  offers a training program to guide farmers and growers through the certification process.  This includes concepts such as ISO quality standards, good agricultural practices and quality management amongst other sources.

Where Food Comes From is extremely excited to be a part of the hemp boom alongside the U.S. Hemp Authority TM  to provide a new verification program that will instill confidence in hemp products. As we partner with farmers and growers we look forward to bringing certifications from seed to shelf.

Cattleman’s Choice Feedyard’s Story

 

It’s 2019 and we’re so glad that you’ve been following along and even rang in the new year with us together. For the last several weeks we’ve been promising to bring you some of the great stories behind where your food comes from and we’re excited to get to kick that off this week! Our mantra has always been, “every meal has a story” and if you’ve been reading along then I’m sure you realize that a story can touch many people, processes, farms and animals.  Our first story of the year features Cattleman’s Choice Feed Yard, Inc and the recent WFCF audit that took place there just a couple weeks ago.  Every meal has a story, and we’d like to tell you one that starts with the Moore family at CCFI.  

The Moore Family and Cattleman’s Choice
Originally, Dale Moore grew up as a typical Missouri farm kid—who ironically hated tractors. He began his career washing water tanks in 1990 in Scott City, KS, eventually learning every job there is on to learn on a feedyard. Mary Moore grew up in Overland Park, KS, and was a very successful real estate closer before giving it all up to follow Dale’s dream into an industry she knew nothing about. But almost 20 years later, she now knows more about it than most managers.

Dale and Mary purchased Cattleman’s Choice in 2000, starting with just 650 head of cattle. One hundred percent were customer-owned from the previous feedyard Dale left to pursue CCFI. And for the last two years, CCFI has been 100 percent full, averaging roughly ten thousand head with about 95 percent of customers preferring to retain ownership due to the success of participating in WFCF programs.

Dale and Mary’s dedication over the years has developed into a passion for helping cattleman improve cattle for the consumer. CCFI helps do this through fine-tuned feeding, strategic sorting, carcass data and genetics feedback, and overall herd management.

They never forget it was the customers who got them to where they are and are continuously inspired by their personal stories around their businesses.

Auditing Services
Where Food Comes From, Inc. audits the feedyard, Dale and Mary’s cow/calf operation, and roughly 90 percent of CCFI’s customers. Feeding programs include NHTC, Verified Natural Beef (previously referred to as NE3) BQA and the Global Animal Partnership (GAP) 5-Step Animal Welfare Review program for Whole Foods.

Benefits of WFCF
Originally, the Moore’s began working with WFCF after they started seeing the change in the industry from the consumer side. The reality of financially struggling trying to feed conventional cattle was there, so Dale and Mary knew they needed to adapt. The typical CCFI customer already met most of the requirements needed to qualify, so it was an easy decision and transition. The Moore’s see the benefits of third-party verification from both the success of the feedyard and customers in a very tough industry. They’re aware not all feedyards or ranches can do what they’re doing and still end up on top.  The Moore’s also acknowledge the consumer appreciation for what they do and are looking forward to seeing how WFCF helps the advancement and sustainability for the industry.

Every Meal Has A Story
Dale and Mary certainly have a truly unique and inspiring story and WFCF is grateful to be a part of it.  It is easy to see how their hard work and customer dedication has helped CCFI grow and succeed over the last two decades.  We’re excited in the coming months to have the opportunity to continue tell additional stories of farmers and ranchers who we work with to provide you transparent and authentic communication about by whom and how your food is produced.

 

 

Behind the Scenes of the Verification Process

Playlist on repeat, last check in the mirror, out the door you go headed to see your favorite band. You arrive at the venue ready to find the floor seats you secured, but there’s a quick detour to bag check.  By now, we are all too familiar with having our bags checked or items inspected as part of daily processes in many areas of our life. Surely you recall the lengthy security process at the airport boarding your last flight home from holiday break. Whether attending an event, jet setting to a vacation spot or even resetting that often forgotten online password, there is a process in place to ensure our security, transparency and wellbeing.  So why wouldn’t we apply certain procedures to the food we put into our bodies?

As you probably know, food verification and auditing are already happening.  One check at the labels on the food you buy will turn up several claims that are being verified by third party companies like Where Food Comes From.  But what goes into that process?  While we can see security taking a quick look into our handbags or checking our pocket contents, we can’t see how the verification and auditing of our food works. Today we are here to put more clarity into that for you.  So, pull up a seat at the table and grab your fork, this week we explore behind the scenes of our audit processes.

Who approves producers?

Customer Verification Specialists verify that farms and ranches are meeting the requirements of specific programs. A Customer Verification Specialist (CVS) is responsible for obtaining all of the correct documentation from farms and ranches prior to scheduling an auditor to visit their location.  All programs, aside from Source Verification, which is done via a desk audit, are required to undergo an on-site audit.  The CVS makes the final decision on approvals and the auditor they send out to the ranch simply reports their findings back to them.

Does someone go on-site to verify these things?

The CVS team will schedule auditors to go on site to review the checklist for certain programs. These programs can be non-hormone treated cattle, verified natural, animal welfare programs and more!  Once the auditor is on-site, they spend time getting to know the operation.  They review records, go over procedures, and visit pastures and pens.  It is important to note that these programs are voluntary. The producer chooses to participate in these programs because they know that consumers care about where their food comes from and they want certain attributes in their food products – no hormones/antibiotics, animal welfare claims, non-gmo, etc.

Now you know!

The audit process can be rigorous and takes hard work and attention to detail on all sides, but without it, there would not be a way to provide transparency through labeling.  From documentation that a CVS must sift through, to producer going above and beyond the traditional ways of running an operation, to sending auditors on-site, the verification process requires many honest, passionate, hard-working individuals.  So the next time you choose to eat third-party verified products from Whole Foods or protein that has no antibiotics, you can rest assured that your product has been verified by many individuals that care.

Now that you are equipped with a bit more insight and knowledge on the actual audit process, we invite you to virtually follow along on some of the audits with us.  Beginning this month, we will be highlighting a specific farm audit in our blog and on social media to give you some great photos and stories from our farmers and ranchers.   We truly believe that every meal has a story, and we are excited to share them with you.

It’s (Almost) A New Year – What’s Will You Focus On In 2019?

By now, most of us are probably settling down from all the shopping craze and holiday festivities, which means New Year’s Day is just around the corner.  The beginning of the year is the perfect time to start your new diet or finally learn how to meal prep.  In 2018, 45% of Americans surveyed vowed to lose weight or get in shape. Were you one of those 45%? Instead of going with a weight loss goal this year, maybe it’s time to get more specific, like setting daily step goals on that new Fitbit you got for Christmas or something as easy as getting more educated and informed about the food you’re eating.  While we can’t help with the Fitbit, there are several ways to educate yourself on food origin.

Setting a new year’s goal to get more educated on your food might seem difficult to put into practice. Where would you begin?  As you think about your food situation at home, you may start to realize that most people are disconnected about the origin of the food that they eat.  With less than 2% of our population directly involved in food production it’s easy to understand why people feel so disconnected.  However, the positive news is that over the last few years socially responsible practices have become increasingly more popular.  This includes animal welfare, worker care, environmental integrity and other important aspects of food production.  That’s one of the reasons why Where Food Comes From cares about bridging the consumer education gap by partnering with dozens of programs and organizations to help you take the guess work out of food origin and welfare label claims.

For example, our Validus Certified programs cover everything from animal food and water quality standards to housing that promotes animal comfort and cleanliness to environmental and worker care standards.  Our Animal Welfare Review programs for beef, swine and dairy farms focus specifically on the following:

 

So, if 2019 is the year for you to start making more informed food choices for your family, we’d like to help.  Give us a follow on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram to learn about the services and programs we offer as well as some great behind the scenes looks at the farms and ranches that utilize our services.

Finally, as that countdown to New Year’s Day ticks ever closer, Where Food Comes From is making it our resolution, through our programs, to bring you more information about the food you’re eating.  Follow us into the new year as we take this food origin journey together. From all of us at Where Food Comes From we wish you a very Happy New Year!