According to Livestock and Meat Commission (LMC) chief executive, Ian Stevenson, the international market for grass-fed beef is to increase in value by up to $6.3 billion dollars over the next decade.

He said that these figures were contained in a report published by Future Market Insights. The current grass-fed beef market globally is valued at $11.6 billion.

Not surprisingly, the LMC representative believes these potential developments represent a good news story for beef producers in Northern Ireland.

The timing of the report also coincides with a recent announcement by Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Charlie McConalogue that progress has been made toward achieving Portected Geographical Indication (PGI) status for 'Irish Grass Fed Beef'.

PGI for grass-fed beef

Ian Stevenson continued: “There has been a long standing willingness on the part of the [European] commission and the Irish government that Northern Ireland can, and will work to be, included within the geographic scope of the PGI.

The technicalities associated with the attainment of this objective are linked to the commencement of the opposition procedure, which could soon be set in motion by Brussels over a three-month period.

“In essence, this is a technical process, one which will allow all the member states of the EU and other countries around the world to register their opinions on the merit of the proposed PGI.

It is within this context that the argument for Northern Ireland’s inclusion within the PGI can be officially made.

“DEFRA [Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs] will be the body authorised to submit the case for Northern Ireland in this regard.”

Ian Stevenson stressed that the assessment of the PGI is in no way a political process.

He further explained: “At this stage the European Commission is only interested in the technical requirements linked to the PGI application and how the specification can be formally verified.

The issue of Northern Ireland being included within the geographic scope of the PGI has already been acknowledged in principle.”

North and south cooperation

Assuming Brussels gives the green light to an 'Irish Grass Fed Beef' PGI, that encompasses the entire island of Ireland, the relevant bodies – north and south – will have to come up with a detailed product specification for the envisaged scheme.

This will then be submitted to Brussels for consideration by the European Commission.

The final, all-island document, will both define the technical and management parameters to be included in the proposed scheme, and the verification measures that will be put in place to ensure that the PGI standards are being adhered to at all times.

According to Stevenson, a Sustainable Beef Project Steering Group, comprising representatives from the LMC; Northern Ireland Meat Exporters' Association (NIMEA); Ulster Farmers' Union (UFU); Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI); Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA); and  College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise (CAFRE), is currently liaising on these matters with representatives from Bord Bia and the Irish government.

At the heart of the work being undertaken by the membership of the group is the development of a scheme to define the compatibility of cattle produced in Northern Ireland in the context of the PGI application," he said.

Beef producers

LMC’s industry development manager, Colin Smith, addressed these matters courtesy of his presentation to the fourth beef sustainability webinar, recently hosted by a wide range of Northern Ireland’s livestock sector stakeholder organisations.

Significantly, Smith believes that it will be possible for beef producers to have their farm’s grass-fed credentials verified at the same time as a Northern Ireland Beef and Lamb Farm Quality Assurance Scheme (NIBL FQAS) inspection.

“DAERA’s APHIS database is uniquely valuable in delivering important and accurate traceability information in relation to every bovine animal and this is a critical part of the grass-fed beef calculation,” he said.

Ian Stevenson added: “The 'Irish Grass Fed Beef' PGI represents a wonderful opportunity for Northern Ireland beef sectors to develop their presence in existing and new export markets.

I am very confident that it will be possible for all the groups concerned to develop a scheme that can work across the island of Ireland as a whole.

“Everyone involved with the PGI submission wants the project to work and to secure Northern Ireland’s full participation within it. All of this bodes well for the future," Stevenson concluded.