For nearly 20 years, the beef industry has pursued a goal of becoming more consumer-oriented. And while we’ve seen great progress in many facets of beef quality and value, resistance to consumer preferences occasionally surfaces when their demands appear to threaten the status quo.
To some extent, this seems to be the case with the trend toward animal-welfare standards, and particularly those certified to the 5-Step Animal Welfare Rating program, the signature initiative of Global Animal Partnership, or GAP. Earlier this week, in Part 1 of this series, we outlined the GAP program and some of the reasons it raises red flags for some producers and stakeholders.
Part 2 features discussions with GAP participants, documenting a process of cooperation and collaboration across the food system, involving people and groups with diverse backgrounds, toward consumer-based outcomes.
Responding to demand
IMI Global, a company long involved in beef source and process verification programs through their USDA Process Verified system, became an approved third-party GAP certifier early this year.
IMI president Leann Saunders says some in the industry question the motives of the GAP system, or of Whole Foods Market, which requires GAP certification for the meat they purchase. But the fact is, Whole Foods excels at knowing their customers and marketing to their preferences. Consumers who shop at the Whole Foods meat case have long paid premium prices for meat produced in verified “natural” systems, and now they want more, in the form of animal-welfare assurances. If producers and the industry want to supply that market, they need to respond and find ways to address consumer demand. “We’re trying to be proactive and provide transparency,” Saunders says.
IMI’s participation in the system was a natural fit, Saunders says, as the company already was involved in verifying brand claims, including those for natural-beef programs and programs that incorporate animal-care guidelines. Also, some producers or groups marketing through these systems already used IMI’s verification services, and wanted to continue with one, rather than multiple suppliers.
Saunders stresses that IMI or other third-party certifiers do not set the standards – GAP does – while IMI helps suppliers verify they meet the requirements. She also notes that consumers ultimately drive the requirements.
While GAP’s executive director Miyun Park attracts considerable scrutiny for her past involvement with animal-rights groups, she is focused on a multi-stakeholder approach and recognizes the value of constructive engagement.