“Kerrygold” brand needed for Irish suckler beef

In Agriculture, Blog by Denis Naughten

“Kerrygold” brand needed for Irish suckler beef

The current discussion, heated at times, about the proposed PGI (Protected Geographical Indication) status for Irish beef is fundamental to the future viability of suckler farming in Ireland.

Firstly, what we are talking about is having a premium brand for Irish Beef that is endosed by the EU, similar to the current Kerrygold brand for Irish dairy products.

I’m passionate about this issue because it is likely to be the last opportunity we have to establish a distinctive brand for what we all accept is a unique product in global terms – grass-fed, extensively reared Irish suckler beef.

Not only do we have a unique food product but we also have a unique story to go with it on how these animals are handled and reared on small family farms across our country.

And while Bord Bia successfully uses this story to open up beef markets for Irish processors, they have failed to specifically sell this product, or to secure an enhanced return for suckler farmers. In fact this failure was admitted by the former Minister Michael Creed last year when he told me that “the concept of suckler beef does not have a high degree of resonance” among consumers. So why do supermarkets put the photos of farmers on beef products?

There is a clear agenda here by the industry not to specifically promote this unique product and it’s the very same agenda at play with the PGI debate. They do not want to separate out suckler beef because how will they sell other Irish sourced beef which is produced in a similar manner to beef imports from other countries?

Is it not better to depress the price of suckler beef so that we have a market for all our beef, regardless of source, some of which is not even reared here in Ireland?

I vehemently disagree with this approach and that is why I told the Minister for Agriculture in the Dáil last week that if his Department and Bord Bia continue with their present proposal for PGI status it will be the “final nail in the coffin of the Irish Suckler industry”.

Producing a premium product costs more, takes more time to produce and the plain fact is that if this is not recognised in the financial return to the farmer, then it cannot survive.

Our ‘environmentalists’ will say that taking longer to produced a kilo of beef is bad for our environment but surely if farmers have to rear less cattle to get the same income, this reduces overall climate emissions?

Unless suckler beef is separated from all other beef then it cannot be properly marketed and promoted, and it will be be impossible to get a financial bonus for farmers.

PGI status allows for this premium product to be singled out and sold as the unique product it is, and this undermines the current route to market which is processor controlled and Government promoted through Bord Bia.

If we don’t act we will be just rearing the offspring of the dairy herd or we will have fields of ragwort – and the only place we will see traditional coloured cattle is on pet farms.