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Whether you are a cattle producer wishing to market the quality of your cattle and promote how they are raised or a customer searching for beef to meet your specific needs, cattle verification programs provide proven and effective validation of quality and handling practices. Below is a summary of those programs used to set beef apart from the rest.

Source and Age Verification

The most common of these programs are those that fall under Source and Age Verification. To age and source verify cattle, producers must work with a third party, USDA-approved verification provider. For verification purposes, a provider will require calving records from the rancher. There are two Source and Age Verification programs: the Process Verified Program (PVP) and the Quality System Assessment (QSA). Companies following these USDA-approved programs are able to make marketing claims regarding how the cattle were raised. These programs have some differences, but basically they are two routes to the same destination of enabling producers to certify the age and origins of their cattle.

The first option for becoming Source and Age verified is QSA program. QSAs are smaller in scope than PVPs and require animal identification tags, either visual or electronic. QSA programs are frequently utilized by operations that perform both cow/calf and feeding of their own cattle or can be administered by a specific packer.

The other Source and Age program is the PVP. As opposed to QSAs, this system is implemented by a beef verification company experienced in meeting the requirements for different customers. The claims and processes that are authenticated by PVPs can be broader than QSAs, including information regarding cattle breed and animal handling. Because of the higher level of required auditing for PVPs, packers and feedlots that only participate in QSAs will often accept cattle from PVP producers without any extra auditing required. Furthermore, PVP-approved products can use the “USDA Process Verified” shield for marketing purposes.

Non-Hormone Treated Cattle (NHTC)

The next verification program, NHTC, builds upon Source and Age Verification by also ensuring that cattle have not received supplemental hormones at any stage of their life. Just like Source and Age Verification, this program is USDA approved and third-party audited. This program opens up cattle for export to the European Union, which requires all imported cattle to be NHTC certified. There is a rapidly expanding market for NHTC cattle, both internationally and domestically, and many ranchers may find an opportunity for premiums through this program that brings increase profitability to their cattle.

To receive an NHTC designation, all employees and family members who assist with the ranch receive training on the program procedures and requirements. Some of these requirements include keeping records of the rations fed to the cattle and the source and ingredients of that feed. Each animal is given a program-complaint eartag, and they need to be Source and Age verified as well. All aspects of the supply chain for that particular animal must be a part of an NHTC program. Cattle can be sold to NHTC approved livestock auction markets and can also be sold to an approved packer directly, if a program compliant auction market is not locally available.

Just like Source and Age Verification, receiving an NHTC designation requires working through umbrella NHTC programs. These
third- party companies oversee value-added programs for producers, packers, salebarns, feedlots, etc. They provide guidance on how to become program compliant and outline the requirements for designation. For a listing of umbrella programs, please view the Beef Verification Suppliers list here.

Natural Programs

There is a large diversity in programs verifying beef as natural available through third-party marketing groups, packers, or breed associations. USDA leaves most of the specific requirements of the natural programs up to the companies administering them, but it does require that natural beef undergo just minimum processing, and must be free of artificial ingredients and preservatives. These programs are still stringent in their criteria and typically focus on cattle raised without hormones and antibiotics and fed a vegetarian diet.

Never Ever 3

This program was designed to function as the USDA’s official natural program. It can be considered to be the most thorough process verified program. By enrolling in the Never Ever 3 program, a producer pledges that their cattle have never been given antibiotics, growth promotants, or animal by-products. While there are other natural programs available, this is the only one overseen by USDA.

The Never Ever 3 program also qualifies cattle for the export market, including the European Union (EU). One interesting feature of this program is if enrolled cattle must be given antibiotics, the cattle are still verified as having received no growth promotants and are still Source and Age verified. This means that the cattle are still NHTC compliant and eligible for export to theEU. If you are currently enrolled in another natural program and are looking for export access or a way to differentiate yourself, enrolling in the Never Ever 3 program might be right for you.

Additional Links

A list of beef cattle verification service providers can be found here.

For further information on all USDA programs, please visit the main home page of the USDA’s – ARC Branch. From this page, you will find direct links to all verification programs, including QSA and PVP.

Additional information is also available at the ARC’s Question and Answers page.