Just like all great stories start, “once upon a time” a husband and wife duo, John and Leann Saunders, had a vision to change the way we think about our food. Most of us have dreams and aspirations that don’t always end up the way we envisioned. However, there was something different about this dream. John and Leann both knew that by providing a traceability solution to producers, they’d be able to give consumers transparency and the stories behind their food would open a new door in the food industry. For twenty five years, they’ve dedicated their lives to driving value and communication when it comes to the process around whom and how your food is produced. This food story doesn’t end here. In fact, we are just getting started.
How did Where Food Comes From come to be?
John and Leann have been instrumental in changing the way the beef industry authenticates livestock raising claims to meet the demands of consumers world-wide. In 1995, Leann worked for PM Beef Group, headquartered in Kansas City, Missouri, while John launched Integrated Management Information (now known as IMI Global and now a division of WFCF)), without any capital. John worked tirelessly building custom cattle information sharing databases for various different beef organizations. While John was building these systems and working with the initial infrastructure around animal identification and traceability in the beef industry, Leann was working with the USDA developing the first-ever USDA Process Verified Standard. With Leann leading the charge, PM Beef Group was the first beef company to verify production practices and claims from the cow/calf producer all the way through the supply chain to retail outlets.
In December of 2003, BSE shut down the US beef export markets and, after much convincing from John, Leann made the decision to join John at IMI Global so they could provide animal identification, traceability and verification solutions to the industry. While John was promoting his main products in the market, Leann was working with major packers to create the first USDA QSA Programs for Japan and meet export verification instruction requirements. It became evident quickly that the industry needed a way to ensure buyers through the beef supply chain that cattle met the source and age specified product requirements for Japan on live cattle. John, Leann and the IMI Global team created an infrastructure to audit and verify these attributes across the beef supply chain. Developed as an “umbrella” program under the USDA Process Verified Program Standard, their third-party system allowed packers to buy “verified” cattle without the responsibility of auditing/verifying the locations themselves. This revolutionized the way cattle are marketed for verified and value-added programs.
In the beef industry today, IMI Global verifies cattle for a number of programs, standards and claims including, but certainly not limited to, source, traceability, age, Non-Hormone Treated Cattle (NHTC), Verified Natural Beef and a variety of Animal Welfare and Sustainability Standards. They also provide an infrastructure that authenticates the claims being made on packages at retail.
John’s entrepreneurship nature then pushed the company to diversify. In 2006, IMI Global became a division of Where Food Comes From, Inc. (WFCF), which is a name John and Leann chose to better describe what they were doing and where they believed the future of their business was headed. WFCF began to acquire additional businesses to round out its certification and verification portfolio.
WFCF now includes Validus Verifications Services, LLC, a leading auditing company for the pork, dairy, egg and poultry industry; Sterling Solutions, a leader in beef and beef on dairy verification programs, two organic certification companies, International Certification Services (ICS) and A Bee Organic; and SureHarvest Solutions, a leader in systems that help capture and report sustainability metrics in many industries.
What does Where Food Comes From do?
So, now that you know the history of WFCF, let’s dive into exactly what all of that means. WFCF is an independent, third-party food verification company. Yes, it’s true, WFCF considers themselves the ultimate food nerds. WFCF cares about every aspect of your food. From how the food is grown or raised, to the quality you purchase at the store. Where Food Comes From plays a pivotal role in bringing your food story to life.
WFCF visits more than 15,000 farms and ranches a year! They collect information by looking at animals, plants, and records. WFCF also develops Standards and guidelines about how food is produced. Being a partner with the farmers and ranchers has made these programs successful. WFCF wants farmers, retailers and even consumers like you to count on them for authentic and transparent information about the food you eat. Basically, the how, where and by whom questions we often wonder about when we pick up a package at our grocery and turn it over to check the label. The process WFCF has created has allowed us to establish a link between you, the consumer and the individuals who produce your food.
We all deserve to know what we are eating and serving our friends and family. In order to do that, the information collected and validated must be unbiased. So, what is the verification process? Farmers, ranchers, growers and producers submit applications to the specific claim they are making. That can be anything from Non-GMO, Organic, Gluten-Free or simply Source Verified to verify that the animals came from a specific location, and WFCF will verify the locations it visits along the way to your local retailer. But, that’s just a few! Once a producer submits the verification application, onsite audits, interviews and assessments are conducted. This requires a lot of coordination and work, but the benefits are well worth it.
Every food has a source, origin or date when an animal was born. Today, Where Food Comes From offers hundreds of claims and programs across multiple markets. These include USDA Process Verified Programs, which means that the USDA audits them and their processes, Safe Quality Food initiatives, Organic Certification, Non-GMO Project Verification, Non-Hormone Treated Cattle and Verified Natural Beef programs in the beef industry, Certified American Grown flowers and so much more. Keep in mind certain programs may not fit the needs of a specific food group. Meaning what works for beef verification may not be the same needs for a product like honey. Where Food Comes From helps guide the farmers, ranchers and food producers in the right direction to ensure they sign up for the program that best fits their operation. Only audited and verified/certified products can make certain claims on packaging that you see in the store. When you see claims that require a third-party to verify them, you can rest assured that the product went through a stringent process. Wondering what claims you should look for? You can check out our full list of programs we partner with on our site.
The latest addition to our verification programs is Where Food Comes From CARE®. At the request of many customers who were looking to promote their sustainability efforts, the CARE program was created. The CARE Standards certify that participating farmers and ranchers are implementing best practices in animal husbandry, environmental stewardship and a productive engagement with their local communities and the people within them.
BeefCARE®, and DairyCARE® were launched for the beef and dairy industries respectively. They are Standards that measure and monitor key indicators and metrics that are critical for sustainability and provides a mechanism for continuous improvement. Poultry and Pork are launching soon!
As a consumer, if you want to know where your food comes from, or what you’re buying is what it says it is, it’s important that you get authentic information. And, over the years, an increase awareness has been created about the process of how our food reaches our plate. Sure, we know food is sold at retail locations, but where does it come from before that? How do we know that the labels we read on food packages are authentic? John and Leann never gave up on their mission. They started WFCF with a foundation around traceability and through that they have provided food producers an opportunity to add value and to be able to tell their story to consumers, which in turn has allowed consumers to understand where their food comes from and has given them reliable, trusted information source when it comes to the food they’re eating.
Today, WFCF now has thousands of partners, communities and employees who support that vision. It takes a village to make change. For those who are new, welcome! Too all the existing followers, thanks for continuing the journey. Is there something you want to hear more of? Let us know! WFCF can’t wait to share more exciting stories with you in 2020. So stay tuned for an exciting year of food verification!
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