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Strong Market Demand for Grass Fed Beef

Over a number of years Bord Bia has carried out extensive research with customers and consumers across Europe and key international markets, which highlighted a significant market demand for grass fed products.

Some of the key findings coming from this research were as follows:

  • More than half of consumers surveyed globally agreed that ‘grass fed’ would influence their choice of beef, as they believe that grass-fed cattle lead more ‘natural’ lives outdoors, and are more likely to be treated ethically.
  • Some 64% claimed to be willing to pay more for grass-fed beef.
  • In the minds of consumers, the majority believed that grass fed means that animals are “grass fed as much as possible, weather and animal welfare permitting.
  • Natural, healthy and premium are the terms most strongly associated with grass fed beef.

This clearly identified market demand, has been behind the process of developing  officially-recognised grass-fed standards for both Irish beef and dairy.

However, in order to be able to make a credible claim of grass-fed on-pack, this would first need to be transparently verified at farm and processing levels.

The existing auditing infrastructure of the Sustainable Beef and Lamb Assurance Scheme (SBLAS) provides the basis for verifying whether or not an individual carcase meets the requirements of the grass-fed standard.

The standard utilises data already collected at audit, which means that no additional data is required from farmers.

The principal requirements of the standard, which result in an estimated 80% of animals qualifying are as follows:

  • At least 90% of the animal’s feed intake over its lifetime should consist of either grass or grass-based forage
  • The proportion of grass in the animal’s diet is calculated using a scientific grass-fed beef model, developed by Teagasc’s Animal and Grassland Research and Innovation Centre.
  • Cattle should graze outdoors for the national average of 220 days per year (although a tolerance of up to 40 days less is allowed where soil type or weather may be an impeding factor.)
  • Animals must have resided on farms which are members of SBLAS, so data is available in relation to feed consumption and grazing season length. The first 9 months of an animal’s life may be spent on non-QA farms, in which case industry-average grazing practices are assumed for this period. This allows an additional 600,000 animals, mainly progeny of the suckler herd, qualify for the standard.
  • Animals from feedlots are excluded from the Standard.
  • The scope of the standard currently covers steers, heifers and cows.
  • Additional data is required from processors which requires a new standard and new accreditation.

The standard has been submitted to the Irish National Accreditation Board (INAB) for approval. It is hoped that the standard will be approved over the coming weeks. Planning has commenced to incorporate the grass fed standard into our beef promotional activities from the autumn onwards as we work to position verified grass fed Irish beef as a premium product in a way that can deliver higher returns from the marketplace. Given the pressure on the beef sector as a result of Covid-19 and Brexit, swift implementation of the grass fed standard will be more important than ever.