Irish Grass-Fed Beef PGI to include Northern Ireland in cover letter

Northern Ireland could be included in a cover letter on the Republic of Ireland’s application for PGI status for Irish Grass-Fed Beef, AgriLand can reveal.

AgriLand understands the Republic’s Minister of Agriculture Charlie McConalogue expressed his intention to reference the region in a letter accompanying the application but not within the application itself.

The recommendation was discussed and accepted by the Republic of Ireland’s Beef Taskforce; an influential group of industry stakeholders.

The Beef Taskforce was established by the Republic’s Government in December 2019 with the aim of reviewing beef industry price mechanisms, but more recently the group has also given its views on the application for PGI status for Irish Grass-Fed Beef.

It’s understood the wording will ask the commission to consider including Northern Ireland animals if an equivalent standard and assurance scheme is established for the region.

The final decision on whether the line is included will lie with the Department of Agriculture Food and the Marine (DAFM).

Controversy

The proposals for a PGI were widely welcomed across the industry as a means of bolstering the value of the Irish beef but turned controversial when it became apparent the north of the island had been excluded.

Also Read: NI stakeholders warn of potential objection to Irish Grass-Fed Beef PGI

The latest revelation – the decision to include NI in a cover letter – has been made public just a day after northern beef industry stakeholders warned they could object to the application should it continue to exclude the North.

However, it remains a long way off an All-Ireland scheme as it means Northern Ireland will still not be part of the main application.

What would PGI status mean?

Registration of ‘Irish Grass-Fed Beef’ as a PGI offers legal definition over what can be marketed under the term.

AgriLand has previously reported that if granted, stakeholders in the north fear it could see Northern Irish farmers banned from using the phrase to market their beef.

The application is at a critical point, as the Republic’s Department of Agriculture Food and the Marine (DAFM) has indicated that it will soon submit it to the EU Commission for further scrutiny.

It follows the completion of a recent national opposition procedure in the Republic of Ireland.

If the EU Commission is satisfied that the application meets the requirements, it will provide an opportunity for other Member States and Third Countries to engage in an opposition procedure. It’s at this stage, Northern Ireland may wish to object.

Any decision on whether PGI status will be granted will depend on the outcome of the EU’s scrutiny of any opposition at that stage.

Also Read: NI farmers warned All-Ireland PGI ‘may not be practical’

Cover note

The revelations of NI’s potential inclusion in the cover note were made in response to a question from AgriLand.

In a statement, a spokesperson for Bord Bia said: “At a meeting of the Beef Taskforce, it was agreed that a request to include Northern Ireland in the PGI application would be included as part of a cover letter accompanying the application to the European Commission.

“As stated by Minister McConalogue on November 11 during Parliamentary Questions, the department supports a PGI being extended on an all-island basis, when a grass-fed verification system is in place in Northern Ireland.

“As the application now lies with the department, they will provide any further comment on the future of the application.”

Despite requests from AgriLand, no further detail has been given on the wording of what will be included in the cover note from either the Republic’s Department of Agriculture, Forestry and the Marine or Bord Bia itself.

However, industry stakeholders in Northern Ireland have already said that inclusion in a cover note doesn’t go far enough.

“It means that Northern Ireland is still not part of the application,” Livestock and Meat Commission chief executive Ian Stevenson said.

“I’m not sure how much weight a cover note would hold with the European Commission.

Our understanding is that it’s much easier to be included in a PGI application from the outset than to have an amendment.

Stevenson explained that a significant portion of the region’s beef sold internationally is already marketed under the term.

“We don’t want to be in a position where because the Irish Government has a PGI registered that we can no longer use it,” he said.

“I think both jurisdictions support proposals for the PGI but Northern Ireland wants to be part of it but, at the moment, there are no guarantees that will actually happen.”

DAFM has not responded.