With the news that the three-month period for objections to an Irish beef PGI has now closed, without any having been received, a final announcement is now a formality.

When it is made at some point in the coming weeks, it will conclude a process that began 20 years ago.

Despite the journey, when the announcement is made, that will be the easy part of the job done; but the real work of building value for Irish beef producers will be just beginning.

Bord Bia’s chief executive Jim O’Toole has said they have marketing plans in development, which is positive, but the challenge of adding real value that translates into farmgate prices should not be underestimated.

Irish beef has a top-of-the-range quality assurance scheme and cattle traceability, yet the farmgate value is over €1/kg behind Britain, our main export market, and 31c/kg below the Bord Bia prime export benchmark price.

What a PGI means

The EU defines a Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) as an identifier for “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 this case, Irish grass-fed beef is being recognised for spending an extended period of time outside with the primary diet of grazed grass.

As is already the case with the whiskey GI, it will apply in both jurisdictions on the island of Ireland.


Northern Irish beef producers already have a huge 75c/kg premium on their cross-border counterparts, because of the premium Red Tractor approved UK beef attracts.

A PGI will, however, give an identity to cattle or beef that originates in the Republic of Ireland and has been processed in Northern Ireland.

Previously, this product couldn’t be described as either British or Irish, and was given the unfortunate ‘nomad’ status, which created an unwarranted negative perception. That should no longer be the case, as the PGI would give an identity to cattle traded across the Irish border.

There are around 3,500 PGIs in the EU, half of which are in Italy, and they are also common in France and Spain. There are a few already on the island of Ireland – Armagh bramley apples and Comber early potatoes are two of the best-known examples in Northern Ireland, while the Waterford Blaa and Connemara Hill Lamb are two of the eight registered in the Republic of Ireland.

A PGI will give an identity to cattle or beef that originates in the Republic of Ireland and has been processed in Northern Ireland

Scotland and Wales have PGIs registered for beef and lamb, and West Country beef was registered as a PGI for the southwest of England in 2014.

Of these, only Scotch beef can clearly demonstrate a premium farmgate market price. It consistently out performs the other UK regions, and the R3 steer price in Scotland is currently £5.02/kg, (€5.73/kg) 12p (14c/kg) above the average price for all of Britain.

However, the beef price in Scotland was higher than the rest of the UK prior to the PGI, so it is debatable what extra value it has added.


Given Ireland’s relatively low beef price compared with what farmers are being paid in our main export markets, Irish farmers might be expecting a quick win by way of securing a premium and reducing the price gap.

That is unlikely to change with the PGI in the short term anyway, though the available supply of cattle usually means the gap between the Irish price and the EU and UK normally closes in the earlier part of the year.

However, the PGI will create the opportunity to properly identify Irish beef in branding activity without falling foul of EU State aid rules.

Currently, Bord Bia can only focus on the quality assurance attributes of Irish beef, whereas with a PGI, it can be branded in the same way as Irish whiskey currently is.

To maximise the chance of success, Bord Bia needs to be ready to hit the road running with their strategy to build value in the brand.

There will be less urgency in Northern Ireland, given the value from Red Tractor branding, with the exception of those handling cattle or beef from the Republic of Ireland.

Getting value to farmers from the PGI will take time, but the work needs to start immediately.

It might be too much to expect that the farmgate price gap with the UK price will be eliminated, but if we see the gap closed and Irish steer beef consistently valued at more than bull-beef in Europe, that would be a success.