The new Grass Fed Standard – which Bord Bia says is the ‘world’s first’ to launch on a national scale – means that Irish processors will be able to support a grass fed claim for Irish beef coming from grass fed cows.
Grass fed has always been Ireland’s production system, said Bord Bia. The country’s ‘lush green fields, clean air and plentiful rain’ creates the ‘perfect environment for beef farming’, noted the Irish Food Board, ‘which converts grass into nutrient-rich, premium products’.
And according to research undertaken by Bord Bia and Ernst and Young in 2018, consumers are willing to pay a higher price to match.
Findings revealed that half of consumers globally said ‘grass fed’ would influence their choice of beef, as they believe that grass fed cattle lead more ‘natural’ lives outdoors. Further, ‘grass fed’ suggests they are more likely to be treated ethically.
Sixty-four percent said they would pay more for grass fed beef. And importantly for Bord Bia, which promotes Irish food products abroad, research indicates strong demand among buyers in overseas markets. Findings also suggest processors are increasingly turning to grass fed as a means of competitive differentiation.
Achieving the Grass Fed Standard
“Almost half of consumers globally associate Ireland with grass fed, so we have developed this standard in direct response to the growing international consumer and customer demand for healthy and naturally produced products,” explained Bord Bia’s Meat, Food and Beverage Director Padraig Brennan.
“The Grass Fed Standard, and its associated logo, will allow customers using qualifying Irish beef to differentiate their products to consumers who are increasingly seeking greater clarity on the provenance of food, as well as the desire to purchase naturally tasty beef from sustainable, grass fed farming systems.”
So how can Irish processors achieve the new standard? By following the Grass Fed Standard for Beef specification guidelines, Brennan told FoodNavigator.
“Qualifying animals must be from farms that are members of the Sustainable Beef and Lamb Assurance Scheme (SBLAS). SBLAS is included under the Bord Bia scope of accreditation to the International Standard for Product Certification ISO 17065: 20122 accredited by the Irish National Accreditation Board (INAB).”
There are five rules processors must follow under the Grass Fed Standard for Beef guidelines, the Meat, Food and Beverage Director continued. Firstly, animals must be from farms that are members of the of the SBLAS, however the first nine months of an animal’s life may be spent on non-Quality Assured farms.
Secondly, at least 90% of the animal’s feed intake over its lifetime should consist of either grass or grass-fed forage on a fresh weight basis.
Thirdly, the assessment must be completed using data collected during SBLAS farm audits and stored on the Bord Bia Quality Assurance database.
The fourth rule, explained Brennan, is that cattle should graze outdoors for the national average of 220 days per year – with an allowance of up to 40 days less where soil type or weather may prevent longer grazing seasons.
And finally, the fifth rule states that steer, heifers and cows are included in the scope of the standard. Young bulls have been included in a draft revision being submitted to INAB for review.
“The Grass Fed model will use data collected during the ISO-accredited independently audited SBLAS on-farm audits to determine the grass fed status of each participating herd,” Brennan told this publication.
New standard the ‘point of difference’
Bord Bia expects the new logo to be most relevant for markets across the UK, Italy, Germany, and the Netherlands.
So far, the reaction from industry has been ‘highly supportive’, said Brennan. This, he explained, is because the standard represents ‘the point of difference’ and ‘Ireland’s USP’ in markets. “Other countries have standards, but none that are independently verified based on a scientific model.”