The Van Trump Report

Trust the Label or Trust the Science

Veteran Rancher Bill Niman, founder and previous owner of famed Niman Ranch, whose meats are relished by dozens of high-end chefs, including Jean-Georges and Alfred Portale, as well as Chipotle, who all post the Niman Ranch name on their menus like a badge of honor, is now looking to bring more transparency to the meat supply chain with his startup company FoodID. According to Niman, so much of what is being sold as ‘antibiotic-free’ or ‘no antibiotics ever’ is just not that. As he sees it, there is a gap between what consumers expect and what they are actually getting.

FoodID, which stands for food in-depth, is looking to improve upon the existing testing platforms for antibiotics in meat, which are expensive, time-consuming, or nonexistent in some cases. Currently, the bulk of antibiotic-free meat validation comes from trust between producers and buyers, but not from actual testing. Niman is hoping a simple test, and a resulting food label for products that pass it will provide much-needed transparency and as a result force wide-scale change in the industry. 

Niman is considered one of the biggest names in sustainable meat and he sides with scientists who have concerns about the growing number of superbugs that are becoming resistant to treatment because of the overuse of antibiotics. Many leading science experts view this as potentially the reason for our next global pandemic. 

Interestingly, recent surveys have found that two-thirds of respondents think antibiotic-free labels on meat are important and report that how an animal is raised is a major factor when deciding what meat they purchase. The same survey found that the majority of people are willing to pay more per pound to ensure the meat is antibiotic-free. Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, nearly half of respondents don’t always believe the claims on the labels they read.

Back in 2014, Niman met Dan Denney, a Stanford microbiologist and immunologist who had taken an interest in the many unverified claims made on food labels. Denney was really astounded that there wasn’t, in this day and age, technology being applied to validating claims on the labels or data accumulated to support producers who were doing the right thing. Currently, in order to label meat as antibiotic-free, a producer must first apply for the designation with the USDA by signing an affidavit and submitting documentation that supports their claims. If approved by the Food Safety and Inspection Service, they are allowed to put that label on their meat, although they may be subjected to audits or testing in the future. Niman believes the once tried and tested process is out of date considering modern levels of processing capacity. In 2019, the USDA was only able to test a few thousand animals for antibiotics, which is less than one percent of all meat produced in the United States.

Niman and Denney, seeing a need for a better system, joined forces with former Google and Facebook executive Kevin Lo and found the company they call FoodID. The company officially launched in 2020 and has been making big progress. Some are questioning why livestock producers would choose to pay to test their meat when they can make or not make claims without doing so, and Niman is banking on peer pressure, for starters. Many feel like Niman, that the industry has to move to a more “science-based” model to better represent claims, just simply saying something is no longer enough, as everyone knows at this point that any affidavit-based systems can be abused. Just like the non-GMO and organic claims that are falsy made on many foreign vegetables and crops that attempt to enter our country. 

This leads to the next phase of Food ID’s plan. If the data from FoodID’s initial work passes the consumer test and finds a marketplace that is demanding, the company is going to look toward future iterations of the technology that will have broader applications like determining if something is really GMO-free or truly organic? Is it grass-fed beef? Is it farm-raised fish? According to Niman, eventually, this technology will be in the consumers’ hands and the industry will have to come to grips with the validation process. 

There’s truly a huge market developing around all types of “authentication”. Baseball cards now have to be authenticated, purses are now authenticated, watches authenticated, artwork authenticated, so I guess the kids will eventually want to see their food authenticated. It’s tough for me to argue that it’s not going to happen. It looks like Food ID has themselves well-positioned to be a leader in the space. You can learn more about FoodID and how they work with clients HERE. (Source: businessinsider, civileats,

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