Product labeling is a contract of trust between consumers and producers, according to Dr. Craig Morris, deputy administrator of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) Livestock, Poultry and Seed Program.
“We recognize that there must be transparency and accountability before there can be public trust and understanding of product labels,” he said in a blog posting.
Although AMS does not approve many product labels directly, it does provide a service where AMS auditors provide an objective, third-party verification on any food product that a company’s labeling claims are backed by plain language standards
AMS announced improvements to strengthen the USDA Process Verified Program (PVP). For almost 20 years, AMS has administered the PVP to help agricultural suppliers differentiate their products in an increasingly competitive marketplace. The changes announced build on that strong tradition by providing the public with even greater transparency and confidence in the “USDA Process Verified” shield, the agency said.
“As consumers demand additional information about food products, more and more companies are turning to USDA’s Process Verified Program (PVP) to effectively communicate about specific production practices and marketing claims,” said Morris. “The changes announced today are part of our commitment to continuous improvement, ensuring consistency and providing consumers with even more information about exactly what PVP-audited marketing claims mean.”
First, in order to ensure consistency, increase efficiency, and protect the integrity of the PVP, AMS moved the program to a single management structure that works across commodity programs. By providing uniform requirements and auditor procedures, this guarantees that the “USDA Process Verified” shield represents the same level of transparency and independent USDA verification regardless of the product.
In addition, the USDA PVP will now require any marketing claim or verified process point to be clearly defined, in plain language, on the USDA website. All products with the “USDA Process Verified” shield will also display the website address, so that consumers can easily find additional information about the actual meaning of any marketing claims or process points.
Both of these changes increase transparency and accountability by making it easier for consumers to understand the meaning of PVP-approved marketing claims. Consumers can be confident that labeling claims associated with the “USDA Process Verified” shield are subject to rigorous, on-site, third-party audits conducted by independent Federal employees. In turn, companies can assure customers that USDA has independently verified that their quality management systems meet the highest international standards. This allows companies to effectively communicate about specific production practices and marketing claims – from antibiotic use in animal agriculture to genetic modification of grains – that are important to consumers.
For more on how the agency’s PVP works, read more from this blog, USDA Process Verified Program: Transparency from Farm to Market, written by Morris.