The long-running application process to obtain a protected geographical indication (PGI) for Irish grass-fed beef is expected to come to a successful conclusion soon.

By this stage, all the issues that have been raised have been dealt with and it is now over to the EU to decide if the criteria are met.

This is a somewhat unique initiative, in that it is an application that will apply to the island of Ireland with the political support of the EU.

There were teething difficulties with the application, but these have been resolved with strong political endorsement both sides of the border for the application.

What is a PGI?

A PGI is awarded by the EU for products that “emphasises the relationship between the specific geographic region and the name of the product, where a particular quality, reputation or other characteristic is essentially attributable to its geographical origin”.

In the case of beef from the island of Ireland, it is logical that a basic diet of grazed grass is key to the criteria.

Examples of food-related PGIs already secured include Connemara hill lamb and the Waterford blaa, with Irish whiskey the best-known Irish drinks brand with a PGI.

What is it worth?

In truth, it will only be after a period of years that it will be possible to establish what value, if any, it is to farmers.

Everyone is familiar with the Kerrygold story and the premium that product secures in the market place. However, only a relatively small portion of Irish dairy is sold under the premium brand after six decades, with huge quantities sold in international commodity markets.

Starting out with a new grass-fed Irish beef brand will not bring overnight success, but a long difficult road to build brand value.

Where will it work best?

The obvious starting place is in countries where PGIs are widely used and recognised.

At last week’s Bord Bia meat seminar, it referred to Italy as being an obvious target, with it being the European country with the greatest use and recognition.

Given Ireland's association with the US and the success of Irish dairy and Kerrygold butter in that market, it also seems an obvious choice.

However, the problem is that while the US is the second-largest beef importer in the world, it buys lower-value cuts that are ground up for mince and burgers mainly and exports its own high value cuts.

It may be possible to build niche markets for a branded Irish grass-fed product, but, at best, it will be a slow process with no guarantee of success.

Asian markets

In Asian markets, where Australian and US beef enjoys premium status, it may be possible to build a grass-fed brand to differentiate Irish as a premium product over South American, which is regarded as the discount beef brand, particularly in China. Again, this will be trial and error, with no guarantee of success, but unless it is tried, we will never know.

One area where there is a definite advantage in having a PGI is in using money that is subject to state aid ruled for promotional purposes.

Normally, state or levy funded agencies such as Bord Bia are prohibited by EU rules from using national branding to promote a product. However, where there is a PGI or other EU designation, this is permitted.

Bottom line

Building a brand for Irish beef will be a long, slow process, with no guarantee of success. However, this is not a reason for not trying, unless it is attempted it will never be known if it could add value or not.

For that reason alone, it is important that every effort is made to maximise the chances of success.

Farmers producing beef are in a business with negligible profits and ever-increasing costs and restrictions. Anything that can add value must be embraced and better to fail trying than not try at all.

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