Addressing the new Minister for Agriculture in Dáil Éireann last night (Tuesday), Denis Naughten TD said the application for PGI (Protected Geographical Indication) status for Irish beef will be the “final nail in the coffin of the Suckler industry” if it proceeds as currently drafted.
PGI status is effectively a Kerrygold type branding for Irish Suckler beef which will be recognised throughout Europe and can then be effectively marketed as a premium product direct to consumers.
Instead of ensuring that PGI status was sought for certified grass-fed and extensively reared Irish Suckler beef, the current proposal is to “shoehorn as much beef as possible into a PGI label” which will put all the power back into the hands of processors, according to Denis Naughten.
“The current defence of proposals which do not restrict PGI status to Suckler beef are since Bord Bia has singularly failed to market Irish Suckler beef to European customers,” he added.
“Bord Bia has never distinctly promoted Suckler beef because that does not suit the processing industry in this country, which wants to get a premium price for manufacturing beef. Until we break that view then Suckler farmers will never get a true price for their stock.
“While Minister McConalogue stated that he is committed to engaging with stakeholders, the difficulty is that the PGI application is the final opportunity to specifically support Suckler farmers and if we fail to grasp it, then the industry will just collapse,” concluded Denis Naughten.
Editor’s Note: Link to video of Dáil debate: https://youtu.be/l6vjpqdeTdU
We are getting through the questions. If Deputies continue to co-operate it will benefit everyone.
113. Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the progress to date of the beef task force; the timeline for the completion of commitments given to the task force; the steps he is taking to implement the measures proposed by this Deputy and unanimously adopted by Dáil Éireann on 26 September 2019; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23762/20]
The Minister said earlier that protected geographical indications, PGI, status will not be the silver bullet. It will in fact be the final nail in the coffin if the current approaches continue to be taken to maximise the number of beef farmers eligible for PGI status. It contradicts a motion I put down in the House this time last year, and which the Minister supported, that PGI status should be for certified grass-fed and extensively reared Irish suckler beef. Will the Minister implement that motion, which the Minister himself approved?
I thank the Deputy for the question.
Many of the issues raised by the Deputy at that time, and raised by me and many other Deputies, have fallen under the remit of the beef task force. The beef task force was established in September 2019 and it provides a very constructive forum for detailed engagement on key issues facing the beef sector. It is particularly important in progressing the commitments made by all stakeholders in the beef sector agreement last September. It is independently chaired, and includes representatives from a range of stakeholders, including farm organisations, the meat industry, and my Department and its agencies. The task force offers a suitable platform for strategic engagement by stakeholders on the opportunities and challenges facing the sector. I am pleased to say that the task force will meet again before the end of September.
Information relating to the work of the task force, including the full text of the agreement of 15 September 2019, and updates on actions arising out of the agreement to date are available on my Department’s website.
On market transparency, Grant Thornton has been contracted as consultants to conduct a series of transparency studies on behalf of the Department.
The first is an independent review of market and customer requirements, specifically on the four in-spec bonus criteria currently in operation in the Irish beef sector. The second is an independent examination of the price composition of the total value of the animal, including the fifth quarter, while the third is a summary of competition law issues relevant to the Irish beef sector. An update on the progress of these reports will be provided to the task force at its next meeting at the end of this month.
On the draft application for PGI status for Irish beef, this issue was discussed in detail at the last task force meeting in June. Consultation on and development of the draft PGI application by Bord Bia began in early 2019. As part of the procedure for developing the application, a national opposition procedure was launched whereby groups or individuals could submit their suggestions and observations on the proposal over a period of four weeks. This procedure concluded last Friday, 11 September and submissions are now being examined by my officials. There will be further opportunity for discussion with stakeholders following this, including at the upcoming meeting of the beef task force.
The difficulty is that the agenda here is to shoehorn as much beef as possible into the PGI status application. As the Minister knows, the former Commissioner, Phil Hogan, said that we should be seeking designation specifically for suckler beef. When I raised this with the Minister’s predecessor, Deputy Creed, in the House last October, he said that the concept of suckler beef does not have a high degree of resonance. However, across a range of food products, including dairy, there is resonance in relation to grass-fed production. The Minister is saying here that he will take into account the market research by Bord Bia but that body has let down the suckler industry in this country. Bord Bia has not promoted Irish suckler beef. It will to continue undermine it and put the money back into the hands of the processing industry unless the Minister stands with, and defends, the suckler producers. He must put a PGI programme in place specifically for the suckler industry.
Obviously market research is very important in terms of assessing what consumers are looking for and what resonates with them. We must take that into account and I know that Bord Bia has done significant research in that regard. It is really important that PGI status has the support of all stakeholders and that everybody gets behind it, including farmers, the industry and our marketing agencies. We must get behind it and make sure it is supported in terms of advertising so that it can be a success. My objective is to work with all stakeholders to ensure that we take forward the work that has already commenced and get agreement on a PGI status that can add to the value of Irish beef and help us all to market it abroad.
The Minister has heard that the stakeholders on this side of the House are vehemently opposed to the approach that is being taken which, from its inception, was about maximising the amount of beef that could be shoehorned into a PGI application. The Commissioner at the time said it would be unsuccessful. Unless we focus on suckler beef, that will not happen. The difficulty is that Bord Bia has never distinctly promoted suckler beef because that does not suit the processing industry in this country which wants to get a premium price for manufacturing beef.
Is the Minister sincere about trying to break up the blockage that is there within the beef sector? I believe he is but he must ask the Tánaiste, who has responsibility for business, enterprise and innovation, under section 10(4) of the Competition and Consumer Protection Act 2014 to request the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission to carry out a market study of the beef industry in this country. That does not require any evidence and can be done at the stroke of a pen. We will see how transparent the industry is at that stage.
To go back to the point I made earlier and to support the point just made by Deputy Naughten, we are at a very funny stage now. Bord Bia has said that it cannot apply for a distinct PGI for Irish suckler beef, which is the best beef in the world as I said earlier, because naturally-bred Irish suckler beef is not widely recognised in the market. Whose job is it to make sure it is widely recognised in the market?
Who is our promotion body?
It got millions of euro.
It is none other than Bord Bia, which is also charged with seeking and securing the PGI status, so it is clear why there is a problem. I want all of our farmers who produce beef to get a good price for their product. However, there is a premium product that comes from a large number of farmers across this State, namely, our suckler farmers but they are not getting a premium. In fact, they are the ones who are operating at a loss and we need to correct that.
Coming from Inishowen in Donegal I know, no more than anyone else, that our suckler beef is tremendous. Our objective must be to ensure that our high quality beef gets the best price possible and is marketed well abroad. This is important and is something that I have raised with Bord Bia in the past. It is an issue that Bord Bia very much recognises too. It is important to assess the market and where consumers are at, and feed that into how we frame the PGI status application. We must take all the evidence on board, particularly the views of farming representative bodies. We must then ensure that the industry gets behind it and that Government supports it in terms of making sure that it is marketed and promoted. There is more work to be done over the next period of time in advance of the next beef task force meeting. It is my objective to try to get everyone working in partnership to promote Irish beef abroad and to try to get agreement on the PGI status.