Members of the Oireachtas have recommended in a new report that Ireland should look to build a beef brand around our carbon-efficient production.

The report – published today, Tuesday, June 25 – was compiled by the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine, and outlined a number of opportunities for the sector. The possibility of Irish brand beef features prominently in the submissions presented to the committee.

Several prominent farming organisations argued to the committee that Ireland’s environmentally friendly beef production is a good basis for a unique Irish beef brand.

The report on ‘The Future of the Beef Sector in the Context of Food Wise 2025’ outlined three key opportunities: developing a brand image; building Ireland’s reputation in foreign markets; and further use of sexed semen.

The report quoted, among others, the Beef Plan Movement, which said in its submission that Ireland needs “a proper brand for suckler-bred, grass-fed beef and for grass-fed, dairy-bred beef” – and that the carbon efficiency of Ireland’s suckler farmers needed to be demonstrated to potential customers.

A number of witnesses to the committee argued that Ireland should be granted Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) status at European level.

The Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association (ICSA) told the committee that seeking PGI status “must underpin a strategy to develop a high-value suckler brand, built around imagery of biodiversity, high animal welfare and low-carbon emissions per hectare”.

Macra na Feirme stressed to the committee that any increase in value to the sector from PGI status should “be returned to the primary producers for their work and production techniques in producing this distinctive product which consumers clearly identify and associate with”.

This is a view that was shared by the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA).

After hearing from these groups, the committee recommended in today’s report that the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine should prioritise seeking PGI status.

Building Ireland’s reputation

The committee also recommended that an association of live exporters be formed to represent their interests, and that Minister Michael Creed facilitate the creation of such a group.

This was after hearing evidence that Ireland has historically been overly dependent on the UK market, and that efforts at building Ireland’s reputation abroad had not yet paid dividends for primary producers.

Among the groups to be quoted in the report on this issue was the Irish Co-operative Organisation Society, which commended Bord Bia for trying to open new markets for beef products, but said that more should be done to promote live exports in other markets.

The committee seemed to agree, saying that the live export trade is not receiving the requisite level of attention.

The idea of an association of live exporters was touted at the committee meetings by the Wicklow Calf Company, which was acknowledged in today’s report.

Wicklow Calf Company told the committee that such a group would allow live exporters to collectively deal with both Bord Bia and the department on issues relating to live exports.

Sexed semen

The committee heard from witnesses that using sexed semen to improve beef quality from the dairy herd, and technical efficiencies in the suckler herd, was “not being adequately pursued”.

Macra said that the use of sexed semen could play a role in reducing emission in the beef sector, while the ICSA argued that it could be used to the advantage of the sector – while also raising concerns with regard to conception rates.

Glanbia agreed that it should be promoted, but that a “lot more research needs to be done”.

Teagasc provided evidence that backed up the ICSA’s point: That fertility was lower where sexed semen is used as opposed to conventional semen.

The committee ultimately decided that there was merit in pursuing the opportunities afforded by sexed semen, especially if, as Macra argued, it could help to cut carbon emissions.

Accordingly, the committee officially recommended to Minister Creed the improved funding for research should be directed towards sexed semen.