As Amy Forde reports in the Irish Farmers Journal this week, the PGI application for grass-fed beef has been delayed following the UK objection on behalf of Northern Ireland.

Given the political goodwill both sides of the border have in support of a PGI for the island of Ireland, we should not be in this position.

The fact that an attempt was made and failed over a decade ago, when both north and south were separately chasing a PGI, should have provided lessons for any subsequent attempt.

The positive from the current process is that with the goodwill appearing to be intact, the process can still be brought to a successful conclusion a year or more later than it could have been.

What went wrong?

Given the political willingness to have a grass-fed PGI available to Northern Ireland as well as the Republic of Ireland, the application process should have been relatively straightforward.

Bord Bia led the initiative and it took several months to secure agreement among the farm organisations and industry on the definition of what would be eligible to be covered by the PGI.

This was secured by autumn 2020 and the application prepared by Bord Bia was ready for submission.

At this point, the Livestock and Meat Commission (LMC), the levy board in the North, put its hand up on behalf of the Ulster Farmers' Union and meat factories to say that they wanted to be included.

However, they did not have the grass-fed standard in place, so were not in a position to join an application immediately.

Rather than defer until they were, the application was submitted, with Minister McConalogue making clear that NI would be welcome to join when ready.

Opposition procedure

While this may have seemed a reasonable course of action, the problem was that it wasn’t as simple as the Republic of Ireland's grass-fed application going forward, getting approval and simply bolting Northern Ireland on later when they were ready.

For this to happen, it was a major procedure, essentially starting a new application.

The EU made this known in its response to the Irish application in May 2021, in which it suggested that Northern Ireland should use the opposition procedure in the consultation process to record what was described as a “non-conflictual, amicable procedure” and offered to assist with bringing the two together subsequently.

The opposition had to be recorded with the EU by the UK government on behalf of Northern Ireland.

This could have been avoided with better north-south communication at the preparation stage

While this process is not as negative or as hostile as it may appear, the reality is that the process which began with the application by the Irish Government back in the autumn of 2020 is essentially put on hold and a second version is being prepared with NI included.

This could have been avoided with better north-south communication at the preparation stage, but no doubt Bord Bia was focused on trying to get the parties south of the border aligned.

Similarly, Northern Ireland could have been more proactive in getting a grass-fed standard in place that was compatible with the application.

Happy ending

The good news is that while the process may be taking longer than it needs to, a PGI for grass-fed Irish beef applicable to the whole island can still be delivered.

All the parties, plus the EU, seem to be engaged and even if it is the scenic route, the destination can still be reached.

Of course, a new journey will then begin to build the brand and bring value to farmers either side of the border and the scale of that challenge shouldn’t be underestimated.