Livestock and Meat Commission (LMC) chief executive, Ian Stevenson, has confirmed that work is progressing to demonstrate that Northern Ireland’s beef industry readily meets the grass-fed criteria laid out by Bord Bia in the specification contained within the Republic of Ireland’s submission to the European Commission, requesting Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) status for Irish Grass Fed Beef.

He commented:

“The first point to be made is that all industry stakeholder groups involved are totally supportive of Northern Ireland being included within the scope of the PGI registration.

“And the same principle holds, where Bord Bia is concerned. A working group for Northern Ireland has now been set up, which is being chaired by the commission’s industry development manager, Colin Smith.”

In addition to the involvement of the commission, the group comprises representation from the Ulster Farmers Union (UFU); the Northern Ireland Meat Exporters’ Association (NIMEA); the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA); the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI); and the College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise (CAFRE).

PGI status

The PGI specification requires a 90% inclusion rate of grass and forage in all eligible cattle diets, plus the adoption of a 220-day grazing season relating to each full year of an animal’s life.

A 40-day window of flexibility is built into the grazing season, to reflect the changing weather conditions that can impact on Irish agriculture from year to year.

Ian Stevenson continued:

“We all know that these criteria are as valid locally as they are on the rest of the island. The verification process, now being developed for Northern Ireland, will involve making use of existing databases where possible, such as our APHIS traceability system and the Bovis database operated by AFBI.

“The agreed end point is to generate information on each animal slaughtered in Northern Ireland that is fully comparable with that made available by Bord Bia for cattle processed in the Republic of Ireland.

"Once the grass-fed verification system for Northern Ireland has been fully defined, LMC will take on the role of coordinating the day-to-day management of the accreditation programme and will lead on the engagement with the PGI application from a Northern Ireland context," Stevenson continued.

“There is already unanimity within the various stakeholder groups that this would be the best way to move the project forward."

Community trademark

“LMC has owned, on behalf of the Northern Ireland beef and sheep industry, the community trademark for Greenfields for many years, and the Irish grass fed origin of the product on sale throughout the Benelux countries under this brand, has long been served by supply chains with beef from both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland," Stevenson added.

“We also have many processing businesses operating in Northern Ireland who for many years have marketed our beef to customers as Irish grass fed beef, and it is imperative that any registration of the name 'Irish Grass Fed Beef' as a PGI must not lead to the exclusion of our locally-produced beef which can readily meet the same robust specification and description.”