In the week that the Irish Grass Fed Beef protected geographical indication (PGI) application crossed the approval line, a second - Certified Irish Angus - took the first step on a journey its promoters hope will reach the same destination.

It is like the waiting-for-a-bus principle - you wait forever for the first and a second comes along almost immediately.

However, there is an important distinction between the PGI that is now approved and the one that is on the journey to approval.

The Irish Grass Fed beef PGI has an extremely broad specification, in that it can be applied to both prime beef and cows, with a wide weight and fat conformation specification.

Additionally, any breed of animal can be included subject to meeting these specifications.


The Certified Irish Angus application is confined, as the name suggests, to cattle from the Angus breed.

Angus is, along with Hereford and Shorthorn, is what could be described as a traditional British breed and is in widespread use in other grass-based beef producing regions, especially North and South America and New Zealand.

In Ireland, it has lost ground to larger, more muscular continental beef breeds, though in recent years has undergone something of a revival, with Angus cattle commanding a premium in the market place.

Wide collaboration

Returning to the wider grass-fed PGI that is now in place, credit is due to Bord Bia and their northern counterparts - the Livestock and Meat Commission - for ironing out the wrinkles to make an island-of-Ireland application work.

Similarly, sensitive political leadership was provided by Minister McConalogue and Minister Poots in the Northern Ireland Executive who ensured the project was kept outside the wider identity politics that often get in the way of cross border projects.

The work of the ministers is largely done at this point and the project is now handed over to the promoters and wider farming and processing sectors to see how it can be used to add meaningful value to beef either side of the Irish border.

Current north-south difference

In this respect, beef producers in Northern Ireland are already at an advantage by having access to UK Red Tractor branding which carries a significant premium in the UK supermarket trade.

The only benefit for PGI branding in Northern Ireland for the foreseeable future lies in long distance export markets that have some affinity with Irish or for cattle and beef that crosses the border in the feeding or processing stage. In either case, volumes are relatively low.

Scotland and Wales have used their PGIs in promotional activity that emphasised their beef and lamb links with their regions.

For beef production south of the border, something is needed to try to lift the value of Irish beef.

Not only does it lag behind UK value by a significant margin for essentially the same product, Irish steer beef is frequently valued at less than young bull beef in continental markets.

The PGI can be a tool that accommodates promotion of an Irish identity and hopefully add some value to the product leaving Irish farms. It won’t be an easy journey, nor is success likely to be instant, but we have to start somewhere and give it our best effort.