Trade bodies say PGI for Irish grass-fed beef should include Northern Ireland
The Livestock and Meat Commission for Northern Ireland (LMC), the Northern Ireland Meat Exporters Association (NIMEA) and the Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) are calling for applications to register Irish grass-fed beef as a Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) to include Northern Ireland.
The application has been prepared by the Irish Food Board (Bord Bia) and, following completion of a recent National Opposition procedure in the Republic of Ireland, the Department of Agriculture Food and the Marine (DAFM) has indicated that it is getting ready to submit the application and that it would support Northern Ireland’s participation in the PGI at a ‘later date’.
However, Ian Stevenson, chief executive of LMC, said: “There has been much coverage of this issue in the agricultural media on both sides of the border. Our farming and processing stakeholders in Northern Ireland are united in wanting to see this PGI registration succeed. It will be seen as welcome recognition and protection for the excellent credentials and quality of our grass-fed beef which is widely known in the marketplace whether it’s from Limavady or Letterkenny.
“Where our industry has a very real concern and legitimate interest about this particular application going forward without Northern Ireland inclusion at the outset, is what guarantees and comfort can the industry take from joining the PGI at a later date when the right opportunity to join is now.”
“Unfortunately, we have a long history on the island of Ireland of not cooperating as well as we should across the border when it comes to the registration of PGI’s in the beef and lamb sector and lessons need to be learned from previous exercises.”
UFU president, Victor Chestnutt, added: “Our members have made it very clear from the outset that they want to be part of the Irish Grass Fed Beef PGI. We were shocked to see reports in the ROI asking if NI had a genuine interest in being part of it. Not only has NI repeatedly expressed its desire to be included from the start, submitting an ‘All-Ireland’ application is the only logical way to move forward with the process and we were very disappointed that DAFM and Bord Bia continued to draft the submission without our involvement.
“The gaps in our verification systems are not vast and are being currently worked upon. Therefore, we urge DAFM and Bord Bia to include NI from the get-go to prevent setbacks and help ensure a simple and straight forward process. The last thing we want is to have to object to the ROI’s application which would be in no one’s best interests. However, we are working on behalf of our NI beef producers and our priority is to ensure that they can remain on a level playing field with those in the ROI and can receive a fair economical return for the high-quality product they produce.”
Conall Donnelly, chief executive of NIMEA, commented: “Grass-fed beef production on the island of Ireland is renowned and the industry North and South benefit from, and rely upon this reputation, particularly in European and global markets. The protection of NI industry in its use of its Irish grass-fed identity is essential.”
Ian Stevenson concluded: “Unfortunately, we have a long history on the island of Ireland of not cooperating as well as we should across the border when it comes to the registration of PGI’s in the beef and lamb sector and lessons need to be learned from previous exercises. It is essential that this application gets the best chance of success when it is entered into the necessary EU processes of scrutiny and opposition.”
At a meeting of the Irish Beef Taskforce, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine in the Republic agreed that a request to include Northern Ireland in the PGI application would be included as part of a cover letter accompanying the application to the European Commission.
Minister Charlie McConalogue of the Department responded saying: “As the Competent Authority, my Department must be satisfied, in submitting a PGI application to the Commission, that there is a verification system in place to ensure that, if successful, the PGI is protected and that the claims made in a PGI application are verifiable.
“The draft application for a PGI for ‘Irish Grass Fed Beef’ provides that the control systems already in place for the Bord Bia Quality Assurance schemes and Grass Fed Standard will be used to carry out the verification, with no additional requirements for farmers.
“In the case of Northern Ireland, there is currently no equivalent verification system in place to verify that qualifying cattle are grass fed.
“My Department and Bord Bia have discussed the draft application with Northern Ireland counterparts, and I have discussed with my counterpart Minister Poots also. I have recently advised Minister Poots that, when the final application is being submitted, I will inform the European Commission that Ireland would support the PGI being extended on an all-island basis, when a grass-fed verification system is in place in Northern Ireland.”