Letter to the editor: PGI grass-fed status ‘creating confusion’

Bord Bia and the Department of Agriculture have proposed a new Irish grass-fed beef PGI for submission to the EU for approval.

While we would be very supportive of increasing returns to farmers for the quality beef produced in Ireland and we recognise that a PGI status may be a means to do this, the proposed submission falls some way short of this.

The PGI proposal is based on the grass-fed standard which Bord Bia has unilaterally adopted as a marketing tool.

Describing the PGI status and the standard using the same name is creating confusion and would devalue the PGI if it were adopted, as the standard is less stringent.

While the PGI submission requires the grass-fed beef standard conditions to be met, these requirements are generally also specifically stated within the submission with the exception of the exemption for weanlings of less than nine months from non-QA suckler farms.

It is not clear that this exemption (which itself introduces yet another anti-competitive age limit into beef farming) is available within the PGI application.

Quality assurance

For PGI status, it appears that all producers must be Bord Bia QA-approved. As QA approval is a further cost on suckler farmers from which no benefit flows, very few suckler farms enter the scheme and it is hard to see how this proposal would change that.

The PGI is restricted to heifers and steers less than 36 months and beef cows up to 120 months.

Since the over-riding consideration for the PGI is meat quality and this quality is to be determined by inspection, these age limits make no sense.

The implication is that the meat of a 10 year old cow is of the same quality as that of a 3 year old heifer but the meat of a 4 year old heifer (or steer) is inferior?

This is a bizarre assertion!

Weather effects

The requirement that animals spend at least 220 days (more than 7 months) at grass simply demonstrates Bord Bia’s ignorance of the conditions under which many beef farmers operate.

For farmers on marginal land and particularly in the wetter west, the idea of putting cattle out in February and leaving them out until November or December is absurd.

The requirement to minimise haulage time is clearly anti-competitive. 

The requirement to minimise travel time implies that the producer must sell their cattle to the closest factory, regardless of whether there might be a better price to be got elsewhere.

The requirement to use registered and approved hauliers is an unwarranted additional expense on farmers who are perfectly capable of delivering their own cattle to slaughter and this must be removed.

The document is very vague on the meat quality inspection process. Who will be inspecting? Who will be paying and over-seeing this inspector?

Most importantly of all, how will farmers actually benefit from this?

While the concept of PGI status is good, it needs to be properly executed for the benefit of the producer.

In summary, this does not look like the document to secure better returns for the beef and suckler farmers of Ireland. It is too broad in scope and there is no clarity on how it will benefit Irish farmers in any way.

From Blath Cooney, Co. Clare