Update on Grass Fed Standard for Irish Beef
The development of the grass fed standard for Irish beef has involved ongoing, active consultation between Bord Bia and key stakeholders including producer organisations and industry. In response to feedback received, Bord Bia has now formalised its proposal to adapt the scope of the standard to accommodate young bull beef.
This means young bull beef will now be eligible to be assessed in the grass fed standard, along with steers, heifers and cows. Young bulls will be treated the same as other animal categories with their qualification as grass fed being dependent on meeting the criteria of the standard in relation to the proportion of grass in the diet and grazing days.
Qualifying animals must be from farms that are members of the Sustainable Beef and Lamb Assurance Scheme (SBLAS). However, the first 9 months of an animal’s life may be spent on non-QA farms. This means that all animals including young bulls will be deemed as grass fed for this period regardless of whether they were on QA or non-QA farm(s).
The grass fed standard is built on two key criteria, namely:
- A minimum of 90% of an animal’s diet during their lifetime on a fresh weight basis must be grass or grass based forages
- The annual average days of grass stands at 220 days with an allowance of up to 40 days where soil type or weather may prevent longer grazing seasons.
Bord Bia’s overriding principle in the development of the standard was not to seek any additonal information from farmers over and above what is currently collected as part of SBLAS audits. With this in mind, we have worked to minimise the additional information required to allow the young bulls to be assessed.
Bord Bia’s rationale to create a grass fed standard to market Irish beef is based upon evidence from extensive research conducted with approximately 13,000 customers and consumers across Europe and in key international markets. The research highlighted a significant market demand for grass fed products. Grass fed is a term that consumers are familiar with that holds positive associations as premium, natural and healthy. Consumers also believe that grass fed cattle lead more ‘natural’ lives outdoors and are more likely to be treated ethically. Furthermore, Ireland is already strongly associated with grass fed production and the grass fed standard allow us to robustly verify claims we wish to make around our production systems.
This evidence points to a real opportunity to use our existing grass fed strengths to create a nationally verified standard and deliver upon a clearly identified consumer desire for ethical, premium, natural and healthy beef.
The grass fed label will be incorporated into Bord Bia’s promotional activities for Irish beef from the autumn onwards with the aim of differentiating Irish beef from our competitors and in doing so help maximise the returns from the marketplace to the benefit of Irish beef farmers. Given the current market difficulties arising from COVID and the continued uncertainty in relation to Brexit, it is more important than ever that the sector utilises every advantage it has to position Irish beef positively in the marketplace.