Bord Bia has confirmed to the Irish Farmers Journal that there is a higher bar for Irish beef to qualify for protected geographical indication (PGI) status than is the case for areas of the UK where long established PGIs are in place.

The issue was raised by Dawn chief executive Niall Browne in a recent interview with Irish Farmers Journal editor Jack Kennedy.

When he was asked about the potential for the Irish grass-fed PGI, he described it as likely to be a “slow burn” and that it was more onerous than the PGIs in Wales, Scotland and the southwest of England where Dawn also operates.

Bord Bia’s John Murray and Joe Burke this week readily accepted that the bar is now higher for a beef application than it was 20 years ago when beef PGI applications were made by Scotland and Wales.

Joe Burke said that “there have been significant changes to the regulations and requirements of the European Commission for a PGI and an application for a broader Irish beef PGI wouldn’t have been accepted.”


The specification for the Bord Bia Irish Grass-Fed Beef requires cattle to have a minimum of 220 days per year grazing grass, be steers and heifers under 36 months grading O= or better and with fat score between 2+ and 4+. Only cows under ten years, grading R- or better and fat score between 2+ and 5, are eligible.

Joe Burke explained that “the grass-fed standard was to some extent a precursor to the PGI and was developed in conjunction with Teagasc and the industry and was launched in 2020.”

He added that “we would have loved to include more animals but we were also getting pushback [on the PGI beef application]at EU level who would have said ‘this is to protect something that is specific and special and has earned this specific reputation’.”


Bord Bia maintains that this won’t have been a surprise to the industry and John Murray explained that “there was extensive consultation to it, like it didn’t happen overnight, it took years to put the application in.”

Joe Burke added that the requirements for the PGI were “extensively mulled over at a technical level in terms of talking to the various groups and processors’ technical experts.”

He added that senior managers were also involved “with regard to what is workable, what’s compliant and complementary to existing business.”

Minister for Agriculture Enviroment and Rual Affairs, Mr. Andrew Muir, MLA and Minister for Agriculture , Food and Marine, Charlie McConalogue, TD at the announcement of PGI status for Irish grass beef on the Weir Farm Raphoe Co. Donegal. Photo Clive Wasson

Irish Grass-Fed Beef PGI: the first 100 days

By the start of next week it will have been 100 days since the Irish Grass-Fed Beef PGI was launched in Donegal by Minister McConalogue, on behalf of the Irish Government, and Minister Andrew Muir from the Northern Ireland Executive.

Since then, the product has gone on sale in Esselunga, a major Italian supermarket chain.

Bord Bia has also hosted visits by other potential customers with another major buyer from Italy showing particular interest.

John Murray emphasised that it isn’t just Italy that is the target market: “We are looking to try and dial it up in the French market in the back end of the year as well,” he said.


On the supply side, he explained that factories wishing to use the PGI brand had to be audited and that the by the end of July, 12 factories would be cleared to supply PGI-branded beef.

He accepted that “there has definitely been some teething issues, but we are working through them” and added that “we are having discussions around the operational aspects.”

PGI status for NI beef parked for now

While the Northern Ireland Executive Agriculture Minister, Andrew Muir is enthusiastic about the Irish grass-fed beef branding, similar branding remains a long way off in the North.

South of the border, a grass-fed standard was in place prior to the PGI application and Northern Ireland participation in the PGI can only happen when it has a similar grass-fed standard in place. While, this is basically a bolt-on to the existing Northern Ireland FQAS scheme, there is still a cost element that has to be picked up.

In a recent written answer to an Assembly question, the minister kicked for touch on picking up the tab for developing the standard, saying: “Geographical Indications are industry-led and it is therefore up to industry to fund any such software development in line with its desire for NI’s inclusion in the PGI.”

The Livestock and Meat Commission, the farmer and factory levy-funded organisation that promotes beef and lamb, doesn’t have the resources either so PGI north of the border looks parked at least for now.

There is also less urgency north of the border because Northern Ireland beef is marketed as British beef across the entire UK retail sector and the NI Quality Assurance scheme has equivalence with the Red Tractor scheme in Britain.


It is clear that the bar for access to a PGI on Irish grass-fed beef is higher than is the case in Scotland, Wales and the southwest of England.

This is partly due to the passage of time, meaning the EU wanting a tighter specification and also the fact that these examples are all regions of the UK whereas the Irish beef PGI covers not just the entire Republic of Ireland but Northern Ireland as well – when they have a grass-fed standard in place. Processor participation is an absolute requirement for the PGI to work and while Bord Bia says that they are actively engaged with all processors, there is a sense that some are more enthusiastic than others. It is vital that they are all active participants to maximise the chance of the brand succeeding. But as they are all private businesses, that ultimately is a decision that will be made at company level.

Bord Bia can “encourage” them, and farm organisations can and should lobby factories to use the PGI, but ultimately the decision on committing to the brand will be made by the processors themselves. They are most motivated by what delivers best for the factory bottom line as opposed to what might be best for Irish beef producers.

Kerrygold is the great success story of Irish dairy branding, but even that established brand has faced competition from within – some dairy processors have gone on solo runs with company-specific branding of butter offered at a lower price point in an attempt to grow market share.

The best hope for the beef PGI is that Irish beef processors can see it delivering value for them and in turn their farmer suppliers. The fact that there has been an annual decline in the Irish suckler cow herd over the past decade should convince processors that it is in their interest to maximise value returned to farmers in order to sustain their supply base. There are no guarantees with the PGI, but if it can be made a success, there will be benefits for all links in the supply chain.