Bord Bia highlights ‘significant difference’ between Grass-Fed Standard and PGI

The proposed application for protected geographical indication (PGI) status for ‘Irish Grass-Fed Beef’ was revealed this day last week (Friday, August 14) by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine.

Ever since then, there’s been no shortage of confusion on the issue, with several farm organisations and other players in the sector having different interpretations.

Bord Bia has spent a chunk of this week attempting to clarify the key sticking points, such as a ‘two-hour travel radius‘ that some farm leaders interpreted as a mandatory requirement, and concerns over when and if licenced hauliers had to be used.

Now, Bord Bia has sought to clarify some of the remaining points of contention, and to stress the fact that the PGI application and Bord Bia’s proposed ‘Grass-Fed Standard’ for Irish beef are quite separate things.

A spokesperson for Bord Bia told AgriLand that “first and foremost”, there is only one production standard being proposed – the Bord Bia Grass-Fed Standard for beef.

This standard is under the remit of Bord Bia and was approved by the Irish National Accreditation Board (INAB) in July.

Young bulls are included in the Bord Bia Grass-Fed Standard.

This standard will operate on a national scale, using data (on feed consumption and grazing season length) collected during the audit for the Sustainable Beef and Lamb Assurance Scheme (SBLAS).

The eligibility of animals to meet the Grass-Fed Standard will be determined at meat plants using the ‘Grass-Fed Beef Model’. Processors will be required to verify compliance with the requirements of the standard during Meat Processor Quality Assurance Scheme (MPQAS) audits.

It is planned that the produce from animals meeting the standard will carry a Bord Bia ‘grass-fed’ label. This is not the same as a PGI label, which can only be used with EU permission and approval.

“Our hope is that the ‘grass-fed’ label will be on packs of beef sold in our export markets from autumn and incorporated into Bord Bia promotional activity for Irish beef at the same time,” the food authority’s spokesperson said.

Part of the criteria for animals to meet the standard is that they must be at pasture for at least 220 days out of the year (this figure is the national average for time spent at pasture).

However, a “tolerance of up to 40 days less is acceptable, where weather conditions, soil type and other environmental conditions are determined as an impeding factor to grazing outdoors”.

According to data from Bord Bia and PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC):

  • 50% of consumers globally said that ‘grass-fed’ would influence their choice of dairy, as did 54% when it comes to meat;
  • 64% of consumers globally said they would pay more for grass-fed meat, while 58% said so for grass-fed dairy;
  • 47% of consumers globally associate Ireland with ‘grass-fed’ – potentially putting Ireland in a position to “own grass-fed messaging”, according to the spokesperson.

PGI

Leaving aside the ‘Bord Bia Grass-Fed Standard’ for beef, and moving on to the separate application to the EU for PGI status.

The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine is planning to submit an application to the European Commission for PGI status in the name of ‘Irish Grass-Fed Beef’. This is not a production standard.

The Bord Bia spokesperson explained: “Geographical indications are a type of intellectual property right, protecting food product names which are linked to a particular territory or to a particular production method.

In plain English, if you are granted PGI status for your product, it means the European Commission believes that your product is unique and can only be produced in your specific geographical location or by using your unique production method.

As of right now, the department has a draft PGI application prepared which is open to a national opposition procedure, in accordance with EU rules, allowing those who were not involved in the application process to air their concerns or issues.

Once this procedure is closed, feedback will be reviewed and then the application will be finalised and submitted to the EU for approval.

The key requirement of a PGI application is to specifically describe what is unique, protectable and reflects the actual farming, selection and processing steps that go into producing the product in question.

The ‘Irish-Grass Fed Beef’ PGI application would need to address a number of descriptions, specifications and criteria to make the case for protection of the term ‘Irish Grass-Fed Beef’.

Some of the criteria from Bord Bia’s ‘Grass-Fed Standard’ – explained above – is used and referenced in the application, but it also needs to include more details, and needs to specifically focus on what is unique to Ireland and Irish beef production systems.

According to Bord Bia, the categories of animals that fulfill these requirements for PGI status are steers and heifers, with the PGI application using the expanded ‘in-spec’ grade range that was agreed by the Beef Market Taskforce as an existing platform to define grades.

Young bulls are not included in the PGI application, as the production systems for young bulls are not unique to Ireland, the spokesperson said.

If Ireland is granted PGI status for ‘Irish Grass-Fed Beef’, it will mean that only beef which meets the necessary specifications can use the name ‘Irish Grass-Fed Beef’, under legal protection from the EU, and the EU’s PGI logo would appear on the packaging.

The specifications for animals whose meat will be eligible for PGI status are:

  • Steers and heifers aged up to 36 months with conformation better than O- and a fat score between 2+ and 4+;
  • Beef cows of up to 120 months with conformation better than O+ and with a fat score between 2+ and 5.

In terms of how a PGI status for Irish ‘grass-fed’ beef might benefit the value of the produce, Bord Bia said: “PGI products generally attract a price premium.”

The spokesperson cited the global market research company Mintel, whose ‘Global New Products Database’ (GNPD) suggests that meat, dairy and fish products with a PGI logo have attracted a price premium of 10% to 20% over the last five years.

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