Process-verified programs, sometimes identified as PV or PVP, are guarantees from USDA that marketing claims on beef products are legitimate. Claims can range from non-use of growth promotants, to days of life spent in open pastures, to breed percentage.
Food companies or third-party verification companies can apply for a PVP certificate. That certificate can umbrella one or multiple programs, or “claims.” The crux is not what the claim is — it is how they plan to document and guarantee it throughout the production chain. Although USDA does set regulations for some programs, like non-hormone treated cattle (NHTC) and source and age verification, others are individualized by a company, breed association or organization. Some marketing programs, like Global Animal Partnership (GAP) certification, fall outside the scope of USDA-approved PVPs but go through similar, rigorous approval by third-party verifying companies.
The earliest PVP certified by USDA dates back to 1995 — the Red Angus Association of America holds it for its feeder-calf certification program. However, “the cow that stole Christmas” in 2003 was the catalyst for widespread enrollment in source- and age-verification programs. The Japanese government called for beef from cattle less than 20 months of age following the first U.S. case of BSE, but the response to this requirement facilitated development of a detailed infrastructure of government and third-party verification programs that reach far beyond calving and slaughter dates.
Today, the official listing of PVP certificates from USDA includes more than 55 companies, most of which verify several programs.