Fears PGI could prevent NI farmers from using term ‘Irish grass-fed beef’

Northern Ireland beef farmers could object to the Republic’s application for PGI status for Irish grass-fed beef should it insist on excluding animals from the north of the island.

It’s hoped the status could add value to the Irish beef brand. However, it’s feared that should the protected status be granted only for the Republic, it could ban farmers in Northern Ireland from using the term ‘Irish grass-fed beef’ to market their produce.

Protected geographical indication (PGI) status is a type of intellectual property right, protecting food product names which are linked to a particular territory or to a particular production method.

The current application refers only to beef produced in the Republic of Ireland. However, Livestock & Meat Commission (LMC NI) has instead proposed that the geographic area is extended to also include Northern Ireland.

“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,” a Bord Bia spokesperson explained.

Speaking on Tuesday’s episode of BBC Radio Ulster Farming Matters, LMC NI chief executive Ian Stevenson said: “We’ve known for a long time there has been a keenness to try and protect the geographical identity of beef production on the island of Ireland.

“We would like to see Northern Ireland included.”

The Republic’s consultation over the application closed on Friday (September 11).

“The papers that went out for consultation with the Irish government last month were looking at the geographic scope just to include the member state area of Ireland.

We have flagged up, as a legitimately interested party in Northern Ireland, that a lot of our beef when it’s sold on the international stage quite often is referred to as ‘Irish grass-fed beef’.

“Being unique in Northern Ireland, we can call ourselves Northern Irish, British or Irish – and I suppose that equally applies to products from our industry.

“It’s a case of making sure we are not excluded from using that name in the future.”

Opposition from NI farmers?

When asked by presenter Nicola Weir if exclusion from the status could be “devastating” to Northern Ireland’s beef industry, Stevenson said: “I hope it doesn’t come to that. I suppose there is the potential that we could oppose it [if the final application doesn’t include Northern Ireland], when it’s going through the process with the European Commission.

That would potentially exclude us in Northern Ireland from using the name ‘Irish grass-fed beef’ in the international marketplace because it would be a protected geographic identification.

“So that’s what it boils down to – we want to make sure we can include that name going forward.”