The Livestock and Meat Commission (LMC) is heading up a group of stakeholder bodies that have been charged with the responsibility of determining Northern Ireland’s inclusion in the recent request made by the Dublin government for the EU to register Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) status for Irish grass-fed beef.

The Northern Ireland Beef Sustainability Project Steering Group is chaired by LMC's Colin Smith and project delivery will be taken forward by LMC’s Sustainability Projects Manager Josh Thompson

“Grass is our greatest asset,” Thompson pointed out.

“Given our reliance on grass-based production systems here in Northern Ireland it’s not a question of verifying our beef industry’s reliance on grass but rather one of assessing how much grass is consumed by an individual animal.

“This was the premise on which Ireland’s PGI submission was based. So we in Northern Ireland must follow similar verification procedures as to those already established within the submission made by Dublin.”

The ‘working group’ established to address these matters comprises: representatives from LMC; 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 Affairs (CAFRE).

Thompson added:

“Making greater use of APHIS and BovIS records will be important aspects of the work that is undertaken over the coming months.

“The PGI application stipulates that qualifying cattle spend at least 220 days at grass during each year of their lifetimes and derive at least 90% of their feed intake from grazed grass and conserved grass.

Getting us to that level of detail will require individual on-farm assessments, where actual grass production and utilisation are concerned. These could be included as part of beef producers’ farm quality assurance inspections.

He concluded:

“The good news is that the results of this work can be put to a number of beneficial uses. For example, they can be used to help verify the sustainability of Northern Ireland’s beef industry to customers in export markets around the world.”