Recent days have seen the European Commission indicating that it would actively facilitate Northern Ireland’s participation in the ‘Irish Grass Fed Beef’ Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) application process.

Livestock and Meat Commission for Northern Ireland (LMC) chief executive, Ian Stevenson, believes that securing such a status will help Northern Ireland’s beef sector secure markets around Europe and beyond, that it has built up over many years.

He said: “Irish beef already has a strong, international reputation in terms of it being a grass fed product. Northern Ireland has always been at the heart of this story.

“Previously, LMC had developed the Greenfields brand and used this to successfully market beef from Northern Ireland in a number of European countries. Securing PGI will add another positive dimension in the marketplace.”

Ian Stevenson also pointed out that this protected status has been used successfully by food manufacturers in a number of European countries to heighten consumer awareness and, in so doing, secure stronger market returns for their produce.

“I see no reason why this type of scenario cannot be replicated, where Irish Grass Fed Beef is concerned," he added.

PGI application process

Despite these recent developments, it may still take quite a while for the PGI application process to run its course.

Ian Stevenson continued: “Securing PGI is all about process. In the first instance Northern Ireland was not officially included in the PGI application sent to Brussels by the Irish government on behalf of Bord Bia.

“We were referenced in an accompanying letter written by Ireland’s farm minister Charlie McConalogue, to the European Commission.

"This, in turn, narrows the route which Northern Ireland must follow to secure inclusion in the PGI application.”

Technical questions from the commission

The European Commission has responded to Ireland’s initial PGI application, citing a number of technical questions, which Dublin must respond to.

“Once Dublin has officially responded to the European Commission’s technical queries, and Brussels completes its scrutiny of the application, it will then initiate a period of ‘international opposition’ with regard to the granting of the PGI," Stevenson added.

“This procedure provides for EU and third country scrutiny of the proposed PGI, allowing stakeholder groups and individual producers in relevant countries to flag up any legitimate issues they might have concerning the application.

“It is at this stage that a constructive opposition can be submitted, which will communicate the desire to have Northern Ireland officially included in the PGI application," he concluded.