The Irish protected geographic indicator (PGI) application is progressing through the approval process in Brussels as planned.

Getting PGI status for Irish Grass-Fed Beef (its full title) will be a useful achievement, but won't catapult Irish beef prices into elite levels on its own.

A PGI is, as the name suggests, a process where the characteristics of a product are considered unique to the area in which it is produced.

A number of products have already secured PGI status, but these are localised. Among the best known are Connemara Hill lamb and the Waterford blaa, while, in Northern Ireland, Armagh bramley apples and Comber potatoes carry the designation.

An Irish beef PGI would be by far the largest product category covered on the island of Ireland when approval is granted. It can also be extended to include beef from Northern Ireland when they have a grass-fed standard approved.

Beef and lamb PGIs have already been secured for Scotch and Welsh beef and lamb, as well as West Country beef in England. An Irish PGI grass-fed beef product will exist alongside these in the British market place.

Scotch beef is traditionally the highest valued beef in the UK, but this was also the case before the PGI was secured.

The other PGI beef and lamb in Britain is already among the highest valued in Europe, but it is difficult to know how much, if any, of this is attributable to the PGI status.

What will it do for Irish beef?

The application for a PGI has been widely commented on across the Irish beef industry and there is an expectation that it will deliver for Irish farmers.

However, we need to be realistic in our ambitions. Securing a PGI status will not automatically add 5% or 10% to the value of Irish beef in isolation from beef in general.

EU designations that recognise regional food and drinks or products with special characteristics.

It will be a useful tool in the wider marketing toolbox for Irish beef in the UK, EU and globally. It will form part of the positive narrative around what Irish beef is and effectively an EU endorsement that this beef is special.

Converting a positive story into cents per kilo paid to Irish farmers is another additional challenge. With the PGI British beef and lamb products already commanding a premium in UK markets and the future challenge of Australian and New Zealand imports following the trade deals, it is difficult to see if the relative position of Irish beef can be upgraded in that market.

It may be a useful defensive tool to defend the existing position.

EU and beyond

Similarly, in the EU, beef markets have tended to pre-immunise the domestic offering, particularly in the retail sector.

A possible exception is the Netherlands, where, previously, the Greenfield’s brand in partnership with the Albert Heijn supermarket enjoyed premium status. The Dutch and the Germans are also among the more open countries to imported beef.

In wider global markets, the challenge will be to differentiate Irish grass-fed from South American, which is perceived as the lower value offering compared with grain-fed US, Australian and Canadian.

We should have a useful ally with New Zealand in that space, but it will still be a challenge, irrespective of having a PGI or not.

The bottom line is that securing a PGI status for Irish grass-fed beef will add another tool to the marketing toolbox which is useful and worth having, but no more than that.