Farm Ireland

Sunday 18 March 2018

Bord Bia defends its marketing of Irish beef

British expert claims food body's tactics will backfire in US market

Ireland’s Sean O’Brien at the launch of the Bord Bia Ham and Bacon campaign recently
Ireland’s Sean O’Brien at the launch of the Bord Bia Ham and Bacon campaign recently
Ann Fitzgerald

Ann Fitzgerald

Bord Bia has rejected a warning that the "romantic" marketing of Irish beef as grass-fed in premium markets such as the United States and China is a recipe for failure.

British livestock commentator Robert Forster claims Bord Bia need to to establish a firm technical definition of precisely what grass-fed means.

Mr Forster said Bord Bia and the Agriculture Department appeared determined to "market Irish beef in romantic terms".

However, he argued it is not sufficient to try to appeal to consumer sentiment by underlining the connection between Irish beef, the beautiful landscape of the 'Emerald Isle' and nutrient rich grass as a result of its proximity to the Gulf Stream.

"This is soft-marketing and it is dangerous," claimed Mr Forster who publishes a weekly Beef Industry Newsletter in the UK.

He said other countries have set out firm qualifications to back the branding of grass-fed.

For example, the UK's Pasture-Fed Livestock Association restricts the beef sold under its label to cuts taken from cattle reared and finished exclusively on grass and forage crops while specifically excluding those offered rations containing cereals or concentrates.

However, Mr Forster admits that the UK situation is only slightly better than here - the UK Pasture-Fed Livestock Association has about 200 members - but the issue is more urgent for Ireland due to the heavy reliance on exports.

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The requirements in the US, which are backed and authenticated by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), disqualify cattle that have been winter housed as well as insisting that supplementary feed is limited to hay, lucerne or other forage.

"If Bord Bia and Simon Coveney persist in taking a soft marketing approach, and are unable to back their grass-fed claims with a tough, technical, definition that will limit the volume of qualifying cattle," said Mr Forster.

"They will inevitably be challenged by USDA as well as farmers' organisations in the countries where beef presented as grass-fed is exported to," he said.

'Unique story'

However, a Bord Bia spokesman said the agency is "well aware of the specific marketing requirements in all our destination countries and is fully compliant in all". He stressed that Ireland "has its own unique story to tell about its grass-based beef production system."

"Ireland is the first country in the world to introduce a national sustainability programme for food production and processing through our Origin Green initiative," he said.

At farm level, Bord Bia has undertaken some 90,000 carbon assessments on farms - a world first in the beef industry.

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