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Fields of green
Padraig Brennan, meat, food and beverage director with Bord Bia (the Irish Food Board), speaks to Irishfood about the organisation’s new Grass-Fed Standard for Irish beef
Article appeared in issue 4, 2020
Tell us about Bord Bia’s new Grass-Fed Standard.
Grass fed has always been Ireland’s production system and this new Grass-Fed Standard means Irish beef is sourced from cattle that enjoy a minimum of 90% grass and grass-based forage, grazing in open pastures for an average of 220 days per year, during their lifetime. The Grass-Fed Standard for Beef, the world’s first on a national scale, now tracks and verifies the percentage of grass consumed in the diet of Irish beef herds. Ireland has always had a strong reputation for grass-fed beef and over the years, grass-fed beef has been the choice of many Michelin Star chefs. In 2019, Ireland won more medals than any other country at the esteemed World Steak Challenge, beating competition from Australia, New Zealand, Uruguay, the US, Canada, and other EU member states.
When it comes to beef, consumers around the world are increasingly looking for natural, high-quality products. With the launch of the new independently verified Grass-Fed Standard for beef, Ireland is now uniquely positioned to meet this growing demand and reaffirm its long-standing worldwide reputation of producing delicious tasting grass-fed beef.
What are the details of the standard?
The new standard is the perfect blend of nature and science. Fully supported by the Irish government and recognised by the Irish National Accreditation Board, the standard uses a scientific calculation method to verify that beef is sourced from cattle that enjoy a minimum of 90% grass and grass-based forage. Cattle must also be shown to graze in open pastures for a minimum of 220 days per year. The model for the standard is rooted in the ISO-accredited Sustainable Beef and Lamb Assurance Scheme (SBLAS) whereby data is collected during farm audits to determine the grass-fed status of each animal. It is a strict yet transparent verification process which enables Ireland to prove its credentials and set itself apart from all competitors in the grass-fed sphere. The new Grass-Fed Standard puts natural, open grazing at the heart of Ireland’s beef proposition, but it also shines a light on the other aspects of Irish beef farming that make it so special.
Why is Ireland a good place to rear beef?
With its mild climate and plentiful rainfall, Ireland is naturally suited to sustainable, grass-fed beef farming. Climate is perhaps the biggest contributor to the lush grasslands. A high annual rainfall average of between 800-1200mm together with mild temperatures make Ireland naturally suited for grass-based production systems.
This enables Ireland to boast the longest grazing season of all countries in the northern hemisphere, with a yearly grass growth rate that exceeds the European average by more than a third.
A heritage of family farming, passed from generation to generation, combined with lush green fields, clean air and plentiful rain create the perfect environment for beef farming, which converts grass into nutrient-rich, premium quality products.
The standard is also a reflection of Irish farming skills and experience. Irish farms are traditionally family owned, and the farmers are fiercely proud of the quality of their Irish beef. From generation to generation, farmers pass on their craft, passion, and care to ensure they leave the land in perfect condition. These careful and meticulous farming practices are reflected in both the Grass-Fed Standard and the SBLAS, ensuring a consistent premium Irish beef quality and the very highest standards in animal welfare, traceability, and environmental care. All of these elements combine to help Irish farmers adhere to the strict data-led requirements of the Grass-Fed Standard.
What are the advantages of grass-fed beef?
Green pastures, clean air and plentiful rain are three ingredients that make up the uniquely special taste, tenderness and quality of Ireland’s grass-fed beef, that is proven to be fuller and meatier (Teagasc, 2018).
Over 80% of Ireland’s agriculture land is lush green grass. This has long made it the perfect environment for grazing cattle and explains why Irish beef is so special and unique in terms of taste, tenderness and quality. Now with the launch of Ireland’s new independently verified Grass-Fed Standard, Irish farmers and processors will be able to supply further evidence of Irish beef’s natural qualities and Ireland’s commitment to open pasture grazing. This is a timely launch, as Ernst & Young’s recent research shows that over 50% of consumers globally now express a preference for grass-fed beef, and 64% said they would pay more for it.
Of course, it is the special taste of Irish beef that wins hearts and minds. Amidst the beautiful Irish grasslands sit an abundance of natural herbs and clovers, grazed by cattle, providing a unique depth of flavour and sweetness to the meat.
Grass-fed beef from Ireland has always set standards. With the new independently verified Grass-Fed Standard it can now shout even louder as the natural choice for chefs and consumers everywhere.
Padraig Brennan, meat, food and beverage director with Bord Bia, manages programmes across meat, dairy, beverage, seafood and prepared consumer foods companies. Prior to this he held the position of director of markets, which involved managing Bord Bia’s 13 international offices and implementing the Board’s international marketing and promotion programme for food and drink. He also held the position of sustainability manager in Bord Bia and led the development and implementation of Bord Bia’s Origin Green Sustainability programme. Padraig is from a family farming background, holds a Bachelor of Agricultural Economics from University College Dublin (UCD) and an MBA from the University of Western Australia.