Obstacles to PGI submission ‘seem to rest on sub-division and exclusion’

The “foot-dragging” being seen around the possible application for Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) status for grass-fed Irish beef has been criticised by the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers’ Association (ICMSA).

Commenting on the matter, ICMSA president Pat McCormack appealed for all parties to realise that a potential benefit for all producers of Irish beef is being delayed – and possibly lost – by this attitude.

“The Irish beef sector needs to put it best foot forward – we have a really good story to tell and we have to start giving ourselves the room to reposition and build margin,” the president said.

“The ICMSA is not convinced we have as much time to do this as some of the other parties to the discussion seem to think.

That’s why we think the PGI application must be finalised as soon as possible and submitted to the European Commission for approval.

“If or when that is received, then Bord Bia will have to put the necessary resources in place to drive the Grass Fed PGI to deliver better returns for all beef farmers,” said McCormack.

“People need to wake up to the fact that the Irish beef sector is facing a hugely uncertain period and the longer we delay on this PGI application, the greater the danger that we will not succeed.

“Some of the obstacles being raised to the progression of the PGI submission seem to rest on sub-division and exclusion and we can’t understand that as a motive or tactic.

“Whether you are a suckler farmer, beef finisher, dairy beef producer, if your animal is grass-fed, then you should be entitled to the PGI.”

McCormack said it was significant that over 40% of the 52,000 beef farmers in the Sustainable Beef and Lamb Assurance Scheme (SBLAS) finish cattle originating from the dairy herd, while 75% of dairy beef heifers are finished on beef farms and 84% of dairy steers are finished on beef farms.

“It is beyond explanation that people are objecting to the inclusion of these beef farmers in a PGI application,” the president said.

“If we are to improve the income position of all Irish beef farmers – and have the opportunity to include 70% of the beef produced by Irish beef farmers with no additional conditions on farmers – then our position is we would be very foolish not to pursue this option.

“Grass fed is grass fed and it would be illogical and a major mistake to exclude animals coming from the dairy herd and provide the meat plants with another excuse to penalise farmers whose farm enterprise is finishing cattle from the dairy herd,” said McCormack.

The Beef Sector Agreement in August 2019 agreed that a PGI Grass Fed standard should be pursued “and if we are serious about trying to improve the income position of beef farmers, we need to implement this aspect of the agreement without any further delay”, the president said.

The proposal from Bord Bia to commit at least €1 million, which could be substantially more if an EU application for funding is successful, to promote suckler beef over the next three years is a positive development welcomed by the ICMSA he added.

It would certainly complement the grass fed PGI and meet the commitment on that aspect of the Beef Sector agreement, McCormack concluded.