What can help turn Irish suckler beef into a legally recognised product that could aid demands for a premium price?
One option is to reapply for geographical indication within the remits that show the regional advantages of Irish suckler grass fed beef.
The European Union intends to use geographical indications as a way of protecting local produce in each member state and it is seen as a way of promoting local delicacies and products.
However take up for the scheme in Ireland has been low in comparison to other European countries with farmers ignoring the scheme or being put off by the bureaucracy of applying for it.
Geographical indications and designations of origin in the European Union are names identifying a product as originating in a given territory and testify to a link between a given quality, reputation or characteristic of the product relating to its geographical origin.
There are two aspects to this:
Protected Designations of Origin (PDO) is when the good is produced, processed and prepared within the defined geographical area and has characteristics due to that area.
An Irish example is Imokilly Regato made in Cork, the milk used in the cheese is from the Imokilly Barony. The manufacture of the cheese is located in Mogeely, also in the area.
Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) is when the product has to be made, processed or prepared in the region and where a specific quality, reputation or other attributes are attributable to that region.
An Irish example is Connemara Hill Lamb which are born on the hills of Connemara, which goes west of the Corrib Lake, and their diet is made up of mothers milk and mountain foliage. The difference to PDO is that in this example, slaughtering of the lambs can take place outside the area.
Irish Suckler Beef
Irish suckler beef should be seen as premium product, for reasons that include high animal welfare standards, high natural health status and because much of suckler production is significantly linked with maintaining high amenity landscapes in areas where tourism is vital.
A previous attempt to secure PGI status for suckler beef was rejected by the European Commission in 2009.
To make it acceptable with an another application, there will have to be buy-in from the meat industry to market it as a high-value, niche product.
Something worth noting is that it will not be approved if Ireland has artificial incentives to encourage farmers to keep more suckler cows. The question can be asked, is a premium product better than Government incentives?
The minimum that a farmer would be looking for would be whether the right to use a product name leads to a better price than for similar products in the same food category. There is some evidence of this being true.
A European study in the cheese sector concluded that cheese with designated status could claim a 30% price premium over competing goods.
Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and essential oils protected by GIs also benefited from price advantages.
Similar studies also show that the added value is distributed along the food chain, helping producers and local processors benefit as well as retailers and others.
A lot of other studies have shown that GIs have a main role to play in the regeneration of the local countryside since they ensure agri-foodstuffs are made in a way that retains local plant varieties, rewards local people, supports rural diversity and social cohesion.
There is also the potential in rural communities to generate new job opportunities in production, processing and other related services.
The requirements of today’s population are intended to be met, while natural resources and traditional skills are safeguarded for generations down the line.
Such schemes help farmers and producers to let consumers know about specific characteristics and origins of their goods, irrespective of the amount of distributors, wholesalers, retailers etc. in the supply chain.
If suckler beef was to gain EU geographical indication status, it might inject the sector with a stimulus to set down markers for improvement in the future and to arrest the decline that has been seen in recent years.
This is part of an article written by Ronan Quinn that featured in a special Beef Crisis feature in the October issue. Contact us if you are interested in more.