What is the Beef Export Verification Program (BEV)?

USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) administers the Quality Systems Verification Programs (QSVP) as a voluntary, user-fee program available to suppliers of agricultural products and services. USDA, AMS plans to implement the Beef Export Verification (BEV) Program, designed under QSVP guidelines, for Japan. This program will provide independent verification for the technical age requirements as outlined in the Joint Press Release between the U.S. and Japanese Governments issued October 23, 2004.

Additional Information:

Determination of Cattle Age (20 Months or Less)

Physiological Maturity of Beef Cattle Carcasses: Terms of Reference

The requirements for the BEV Program for Japan, once finalized, will be detailed in a USDA document that will contain the scope, a list of reference documents, specific product requirements, and identification requirements as agreed to in the Joint Press Release between the U.S. and Japanese Governments issued October 23, 2004.

The verification activities used to evaluate applicants submitting programs for the BEV Program are based on existing USDA regulations that provide the requirements of a USDA Quality System Assessment (QSA) Program as well as the criteria used in the objective evaluation of USDA QSA Programs that are submitted for approval. These programs are based on the following ISO Standard and Guidelines.

  • ANSI/ISO/ASQ 9001:2000 Quality management systems - Requirements, dated December 13, 2000; This International Standard promotes the adoption of a process approach to enhance customer satisfaction by meeting customer requirements.
  • ANSI/ISO/ASQ 9004:2000 Quality management systems - Guidelines for performance improvements, dated December 13, 2000; This International Standard provides guidelines beyond the requirements given in ISO 9001 and focused on achieving ongoing improvement as measured through the satisfaction of customers and other interested parties.

ISO Standards and Guides for QSVPs

AMS utilizes internationally recognized ISO Standards and Guides as a base for all QSVPs. Activities conducted under these programs are performed in accordance with a documented Quality Management System based on the ISO 9001:2000 standard. Audits to support these programs are conducted in accordance with ISO 19011:2002 "Guidelines for Quality and/or Environmental Management Systems Auditing". This standard provides guidance on the conduct of internal or external audits of quality and/or environmental management systems, including the selection of the audit team. It also provides guidance on the competence needed by an auditor and describes a process for evaluating auditors.

The general policies and procedures for conducting audits by AMS are outlined in the ARC 1000 Procedure, "Quality Systems Verification Programs General Policies and Procedures." This document is available on the Web. Additional information on the AMS programs can be found at this Web site.

Who oversees the BEV?

USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) is responsible for the Quality Systems Assessment, Export Verification Programs. These programs are based on ISO 9000 Quality management standard and ISO 19011:2002 Auditing QMS guidelines. In fulfilling this responsibility, AMS uses full time government employees as auditors that receive program specific training and experience in Quality System Assessment (QSA). Currently, AMS is conducting a number of programs ensuring that the origin and handling of product meets the importers needs, including pork exports to the EU and Japan, as well as beef to Canada, Mexico, and the EU.

Within a QSA for a company, AMS looks for quality managment procedures, appropriate training of personnel, proper receiving of product from outside sources, proper identification and traceability of the product, and control of non-confirming product.

Additional information on the AMS QSA programs can be found at this Web site.

Structure of US Beef Industry

Livestock in the United States usually go through 4 stages, calving, weaning, feeding, and slaughter/fabrication.

Within the cow-calf operation, there are approximately 800,000 beef herds and 92,000 dairy herds. Total cattle numbers include 32.9 million beef cows, 9.0 million diary cows, and 29 million feeder calves. Despite the large number of operations, about 8,000 herds account for 50% of total inventory since 90% of the beef cow herds have less than 100 head.

After weaning, the majority of calves are sold to feed lots. There are approximately 2,100 feeding companies, out of which 1,781 have the capacity to feed more than 1,000 head at one time. In total, US feedlots can hold 14 million head at one time, and market about 23.5 million head per year.

Within the US, there are 706 plants that slaughter steers and heifers. Annually, 35.5 million head are slaughtered resulting in 26.2 billion pounds of beef with an average carcass weight of 758 lbs. Boxed beef makes up 97% of the production from the slaughter plants. In 2003, US fed cattle slaughter included: 17,1777,000 steers and 11,078,000 heifers. The fed steers and heifers for export are primarily processed at one of approximately 50 facilities that utilize the services of AMS graders who apply the Official Standards for Grades of Carcass Beef.

The structure of the industry can best be described as an hourglass in that there are a large number of cow/calf producers (900,000), a smaller number of feedlots (2,100), and a few slaughter plants (700) at the narrow point of the hourglass. The hourglass then begins to expand with 720,000 foodservice facilities and 250 million US consumers. Given this analogy, intervention and age verification become easier to implement at the narrow point of the hourglass where there are fewer points to control.

The goal of the US beef industry is to provide young, tender beef in the most efficient manner possible. Therefore, the industry has evolved to quickly move cattle through the system in order to slaughter the animals as quickly as possible in order to reduce nutritional stress on the cows and to take advantage of the genetic potential of beef cattle for early growth. Genetic selection for the past 20 years has been focused on producing desirable beef products from faster growing, younger cattle. Nutritional, health, and growth management protocols at every level in the industry are focused on meeting market weight targets at young ages.

The average calf is weaned 6 to 8 months after calving. It then is put on pasture for 4 to 6 months and then feed a high protein diet for another 3 months. This results in the animal being slaughtered at an age of between 13 to 16 months. A study of over 77,000 British cross cattle (i.e. Angus, Hereford, etc.), which are among the slowest maturing animals, showed that 97% were slaughtered at the age of 20 months or younger.

Age Verification

As outlined in the Joint Press Release between the U.S. and Japanese Governments, beef exported to Japan is limited to animals that are 20 months or younger at the time of slaughter. This age verification will be conducted by USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service under a Beef Export Verification system that using two criteria: animal production records or physiological age.

Some beef cattle are traceable to live animal production records which indicate that they are 20 months of age or younger at the time of slaughter. Records that will be used to verify this requirement by the US Government must meet at least one of the following criteria:

a) Individual Animal Age Verification
b) Group Age Verification
c) Insemination Age Verification
d) USDA Process Verified Animal Identification and Data Collection Services

Since record based age verification alone would allow only extremely limited quantities of trade to resume, a second form of age verification is needed. Traditional physiological methods of age verification, such as dentition, are not valid in this case because of their inaccuracy at the 20-month age level. Therefore, the US proposed, and it was agreed, that grading and quality attributes will be used for verifying physiological age of carcasses 20 months of age or younger. This carcass grading system, once it objectively demonstrates that it can verify physiological age to evaluate carcasses to be 20 months of age or younger, will be used as a method to satisfy the BEV program requirement.