Irish bullock, County Sligo, Ireland
The New York Times just featured a piece on the announcement that Irish beef will be exported to America soon. For those of us who follow such things, this isn’t news, as it has been in the works for some time. The announcement is great news for Ireland, which has been suffering under austerity rules imposed by the EU after the 2008 crash, which acutely impacted Ireland’s economy.
“This U.S. market is a huge prize given its size and the demand we know exists there for premium grass-fed beef,” Ireland’s agriculture minister, Simon Coveney, said in an official announcement Monday on Irish national radio. “We now have first-mover advantage as a result of being the first E.U. member state to gain entry. There is also the large Irish-American community, which will be a key target of our promotional efforts.” via the NYT.
I hope that the USDA upholds its label requirements for grass-fed beef because grass-fed should mean from mother’s milk to forage and grass from pasture, with no grains ever given to the cattle.
This is the USDA definition from their website:
Grass Fed Marketing Claim Standards
Claim and Standard: Grass (Forage) Fed – Grass and forage shall be the feed source consumed for the lifetime of the ruminant animal, with the exception of milk consumed prior to weaning. The diet shall be derived solely from forage consisting of grass (annual and perennial), forbs (e.g., legumes, Brassica), browse, or cereal grain crops in the vegetative (pre-grain) state. Animals cannot be fed grain or grain byproducts and must have continuous access to pasture during the growing season. Hay, haylage, baleage, silage, crop residue without grain, and other roughage sources may also be included as acceptable feed sources. Routine mineral and vitamin supplementation may also be included in the feeding regimen. If incidental supplementation occurs due to inadvertent exposure to non-forage feedstuffs or to ensure the animal’s well being at all times during adverse environmental or physical conditions, the producer must fully document (e.g., receipts, ingredients, and tear tags) the supplementation that occurs including the amount, the frequency, and the supplements provided.
Kerrygold’s butter, a favorite of mine, claims it is grass-fed but this claim is misleading because I believe they mean “pasture-raised,” as most Irish dairy farmers supplement their feed with some non-forage feed stuffs. This doesn’t minimize the fact that Irish farms are pasture based, and produce some of the best quality pasture-raised products in the world. On their website they make a convincing case for why Kerrygold’s butter is so great, and that Ireland really is a grassland utopia. My point is that if Irish beef is being marketed as grass-fed beef, it should meet the requirements set by the USDA: forage only, no grains EVER.
While this news might be great for Ireland and its beef producers, it could thwart the growth of a domestic wholesale market for grass-fed beef which faces a myriad of infrastructural challenges made worse by a domestic beef industry openly hostile to home grown grass-fed producers. I hope that Irish beef, if labeled correctly, will help in part to create a higher end grass-fed beef market that would in turn facilitate domestic producers supplying our growing interest in premium grass-fed meats.
With all this said, it is still important to buy directly from domestic producers of grass-fed beef, as we can’t compete with exported beef from Australia, New Zealand and Uruguay which is becoming more and more common at local supermarkets and stores like Trader Joe’s. Fingers crossed that Irish “grass-fed” beef will be marketed as a high end product and that it is labeled correctly.