CLARE Beef Plan have expressed grave misgivings about the shortcomings of a proposed new classification system for suckler beef.
Bord Bia and the Department of Agriculture have proposed a new Irish grassfed beef Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) for submission to the EU for approval.
Clare Beef Plan is concerned Bord Bia intends to market grassfed beef regardless of whether the PGI submission is accepted by the EU or not.
For PGI status, it appears that all producers must be Bord Bia QA-approved, which is another cost for suckler farmers from which no benefit flows.
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, Beef Plan chairman, Joe Woulfe argues these age limits make no sense.
He said the implication is that the meat of a 10 year-old cow is of the same quality as that of a three year- old heifer but the meat of a four year-old heifer (or steer) is inferior.
“The requirement that animals spend more than seven 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 statement that all eligible beef farmers farm within two hours of a factory clearly excludes those who actually don’t, now or at some time in the future.
“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.
“While the concept of PGI status is good, it needs to be properly executed for the benefit of the producer.
“It needs to be focused so that it increases returns for those farmers that qualify rather than depressing prices for those that don’t.
“This focus would be better achieved by having a number of PGI products which will better reflect the particular geographical characteristics that make sectors of Irish farming unique.
“Beef production from the suckler cow is a completely different process than beef production from the dairy cow and should be defined and marketed differently,” he stated
The Department of Agriculture stated there is evidence to suggest that PGI status has the potential to confer a market advantage.
It gives assurance, particularly to consumers in the European markets who are most familiar with PGIs, of the quality and consistency of PGI products. While price is always a function of market dynamics, PGI status has the potential to build some resilience against market volatility, by positioning product in a high quality category.
However configured, a PGI application is required to include a product specification, describing the unique qualities and characteristics of the product, linked to its place of origin, that differentiate it from other beef products.
Ireland already has a small number of PGIs relating to single products, or a narrow range of production from a particular region. Were a narrower approach to be taken in relation to an application for Irish beef, it would be necessary to have a product specification that differentiates that beef from other Irish beef in the marketplace.
Commenting on the grass fed standard, the spokesman stated the intention of the application is to build on the existing and identifiable reputation and image of Irish beef in the marketplace.
“The objective of the product specification in this instance is to build a credible application that can meet the PGI standard, but also to capture the benefit of the PGI for as much Irish beef as possible, consistent with the requirements of the PGI system. A successful application for the PGI as currently proposed would not preclude the possibility of a future, more narrowly focused application,” he said.