Northern farmers will need to be vigilant that promised changes to the Republic's PGI status for Irish Grass Fed Beef actually take place.

Matt Carthy, Sinn Féin's agriculture spokesman for the south, told farmers at a meeting on Wednesday night (March 24) that while he was not satisfied by the final application, it represented progress.

Protected Geographical Indication

Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) status is a type of intellectual property right, protecting food product names which are linked to a particular territory or to production method.

At one point, industry leaders in Northern Ireland were threatening to object to the application out of fear it could see Northern farmers banned from using the phrase to market their beef.

The idea of the PGI is to promote a premium for the Irish pasture-based farming system. However, the application quickly turned controversial as sectors within the industry had differing opinions on which conditions should come attached to the label - and which geographical area covered.

"The criteria is so loose that the vast, vast, vast majority of beef that's produced will fit the criteria - and some of the farm organisations were calling for that - but to us, that defeats the purpose," Carthy said.

What we wanted was a PGI application that was particular to the suckler herd; because that's the special product that we have - that's the product that creates the image which sells Irish beef all over the world.

'Essentially a partitionist application'

"We engaged with the department and with Bord Bia at a very early stage - myself and Declan [West Tyrone MLA Declan McAleer] - in the respect that the PGI application was essentially a partitionist application," Carthy added.

"There has been some movement as a result of our intervention. Because the scheme is being operated by Bord Bia and Bord Bia at the moment is only open to farmers from the South, there was a potential that Northern farmers could be cut out entirely.

What we now have agreement on is that once there is an auditing system agreed so that farmers in the North can ensure that their cattle meet the criteria and that can be certified, then beef produced in the North will qualify for the Irish Grass-Fed label.

"So we will have to be very vigilant to ensure that happens, and it happens quickly. But we have got agreement at a European level. And in fairness, Charlie McConalogue [the Republic of Ireland's Agriculture Minister] bought the argument straight away and that's now the position of the Irish Government.

"...It will be more complicated than we would have liked but it will be done and hopefully, by the time we are finished the system will be streamlined and easy enough."

It's understood a working group has been set up comprising LMC NI, Northern Ireland Meat Exporters Association, AFBI, and the Ulster Farmers' Union, among other stakeholders to establish the criteria needed and how a Grass-Fed assurance scheme could be rolled out across Northern Ireland.

No date has yet been given for when the new verification scheme will be implemented.