‘Danger of squandering’ PGI opportunity ‘unless we get our act together’

The Irish beef sector “has an opportunity to take a positive step forward” by submitting a Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) application for Irish grass fed beef, under which 70% of Irish beef – including dairy beef – would qualify, according to the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers’ Association (ICMSA).

However, president of ICMSA Pat McCormack warned that there’s a real danger of squandering the opportunity unless we “get our act together – and fast”.

McCormack confirmed that the ICMSA met with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and Bord Bia in relation to the proposal.

Commenting, he said that, while there are aspects of the document that he thought should be amended, including the eligible grades for cows, overall the document is a reasonable basis to get a PGI status for Irish beef without any additional conditions being imposed on farmers.

“That last point is critical”, he said, is critical, “both Bord Bia and the department have assured the ICMSA that there will be no new conditions placed on farmers over and above the existing conditions in the Bord Bia Beef & Lamb Quality Assurance Scheme.

“That is significant but it’s also obvious that farmers still have concerns in relation to this and we believe that Bord Bia should underline its commitment by providing written assurances that, firstly, no new rules will be introduced and, secondly, that farmers will be free to sell their cattle to whichever meat plant they wish and to transport them to the plant themselves if they so wish.

“These are very simple and straightforward clarifications and the ICMSA is calling on Bord Bia to confirm them in similarly simple and straightforward manner,” the ICMSA president said.

“As farmers, we have been saying for decades that we need to brand our product and differentiate it from others to show that we have the best beef in the world.

We now have the opportunity to take the first step towards that by achieving a specific EU recognition for the majority of our beef. As a sector – and provided we receive those written assurances from Bord Bia regarding no new rules on farmers – we would be very foolish not to take this opportunity.

“Beef producers, whether suckler or dairy beef, are highly vulnerable to a no-deal Brexit and PGI provides an opportunity to brand ourselves and hopefully add value.

“We should immediately grasp it and it should be fully supported by all stakeholders”, he continued.

McCormack said that we are in very real danger at this stage of turning a potential positive for Irish beef into a certain negative and creating divisions that will damage only one part of the beef supply chain: the farmer.

He said that no-one pretended that PGI would solve our profitability problems in beef production, but it most certainly represented a move in the right direction.

“We think the opportunity should be seized without further delay,” the president concluded.