PGI status should be given to ‘less intensive’ suckler systems

Any initiative to get EU Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) status for beef should be focused on developing a niche for animal welfare friendly, less intensive, suckler beef systems, a farm lobby group has said.

The Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association’s (ICSA’s) suckler chairman, John Halley, said: “It is imperative that suckler farming is the image used to promote Irish beef but suckler farmers are not getting the return for their system of farming.”

Halley was speaking following a stakeholder meeting on the subject of attaining PGI status for Irish beef, held in Agriculture House, Dublin, last week.

PGI status should be used as a mechanism to sell suckler beef as a premium product to discerning consumers.

He believes suckler beef should be seen as a premium product because: “Suckler beef has high animal welfare standards, high natural health status and much suckler production is intrinsically linked with maintaining high-amenity landscapes in regions where tourism is vital.

“Any strategy to get PGI status for the entire kill, including dairy beef, risks making the same mistake as the previous attempt in 2009, which was rejected by the EU Commission.”

However, Halley believes that there cannot be a PGI status for all beef.

The suckler chairman claimed: “If we go for one generic PGI to cover everything, suckler farmers will feel let down that dairy farming interests have triumphed again when in fact this should be used as a device to improve returns from suckler systems.

The ICSA believes that if there is any hope, it must be the development of a suckler beef brand, based on natural, extensive, pasture-based farming.

He suggested that the idea could be implemented in conjunction with an agri-environment scheme that is “more like REPS and less like GLAS in terms of delivering significant payment levels to farmers engaged in suckler beef production”.

The suckler chairman outlined that there will have to be a buy-in from the meat industry “to market this as a high-value niche product”.

He added that it will not work if “we have artificial incentives to encourage farmers to keep more suckler cows”.

Concluding, he said: “We need to focus on paying better direct payments to more extensive systems of farming because we have seen time and time again that scarcity is far better than traceability or sustainability for farmers.”