Farm Ireland

Tuesday 20 February 2018

Quality assurance scheme goes green

New carbon audit aimed at giving Irish beef farmers a jump on competition

Darragh McCullough

Darragh McCullough

Beef farmers are about to find out just how green their production systems really are.

From next January, the 32,000 farmers in Bord Bia's Quality Assurance Scheme will be audited on the environmental sustainability of their farms.

Launched at this week's SIAL global food show in Paris, the initiative is designed to give Irish beef the edge on its international competitors in premium European markets.

Detailed pilot audits are already underway on 200 farms in conjunction with Teagasc and the Carbon Trust. These are expected to be completed by the end of November, when researchers will have established exactly how many kilogrammes of CO2 equivalent are generated per kilo of beef in the various production systems that exist in Ireland. More than 70pc of Irish beef will then have its own 'carbon count' benchmark.

The system will be the first of its kind in the world and beef industry bosses are confident that it will prove to be a hit with consumers.

"Sustainability is hot with consumers at the moment," said Dawn Meats chief Dan Brown. "When it comes to sustainability, Ireland will easily be top of the class."

When asked if this would help Irish beef prices, Mr Brown said that he hoped the initiative would boost returns for Irish beef by increasing its share of the premium market.

Bord Bia chief executive Aidan Cotter added that even in recessionary times consumers were still willing to pay extra for food produced in an environmentally sustainable way.

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"All the research we've carried out over the last two years indicates that consumers will still go for the sustainable option where their purses allow," he said.

He also pointed to the fact that Ireland's biggest eurozone food market, France, is now out of recession.

The revamped Quality Assurance Scheme will have a number of new criteria that each farmer will be assessed under. These will include the length of time that an animal takes to finish in a system, manure management and electricity and energy management.

It is also planned to bring the issues surrounding water quality and biodiversity in under the initiative over time. As yet, no model has been developed to measure the carbon sequestration of grassland, the basis for the majority of Irish beef. However, Mr Cotter stressed that this initiative was not designed to create more work for participants.

"This is not about creating new barriers for farmers to climb," he said. "There won't be any new criteria for them [farmers] to pass."

Mr Cotter also insisted that there was room for even more farmers to join the scheme.

While the current audit is designed to establish a benchmark for the carbon footprint of Irish beef production, Bord Bia aims to demonstrate to Europe's biggest retailers that carbon emissions from Irish beef farms are falling over time. But Mr Cotter declined to suggest how much of a reduction they would be targeting.

"The emissions will fall over time anyway due to increased efficiencies in the business," he said.

"This is giving real teeth to the Brand Ireland concept in Harvest 2020 report," said the Minister for Agriculture, Brendan Smith, who was also present for the launch of the report.

Fourteen Irish companies were exhibiting at the massive biennial SIAL food show in Paris this week. All the major meat companies were represented with more than 150,000 of the most influential food buyers in the world present over the five-day event.

While business is holding up well on continental markets, Irish company representatives were anxious about the impact of the French strikes .

Irish Independent