Introduction to the challenge addressed
In Ireland, under the overall brand umbrella of Origin Green, Bord Bia (The Irish food Board) operates the Sustainable Beef and Lamb Quality Assurance Scheme (SBLQA) to authenticate the high sustainability and quality credentials of Irish beef. The scheme was developed to address the challenges in the market place where beef image and consumption is under constant pressure and where consumers require proof that beef is produced in a sustainable way to high standards. Originally devised in the early 1990’s as a quality assurance scheme, the SBLQA has developed over the years to address various changing market requirements, with a significant transformation in recent years to adopt the scheme to accommodate the area of sustainability.
Description of the Good Practice.
There are over 50,000 Irish beef farmers participating in the SBLQA scheme and it covers over 90% of Irish beef output. Under the scheme, farmers and the processing sector are required to meet best practice standards and legislation, all accredited to ISO standards. At farm level, audits are conducted every 16-18 months by independent auditors on all aspects of production such as identification and traceability, food safety, animal health and welfare, safety, feed and water, animal remedies, land management, biosecurity, housing, transport, environment, social sustainability, and many other areas. A report on compliance is then prepared for the producer.
On sustainability, criteria have been developed, applied and audited at farm level which allow the scheme demonstrate the sustainability of Irish beef at individual farm level. The key sustainability criteria covered include minimising GHG, conservation of water, good soil management, improving biodiversity, enhancing social and economic performance. Through a combination of on farm recording, data collected at the farm audit and data automatically collected through the Department of Agriculture and ICBF (Irish Cattle Breeding Federation) a comprehensive set of data set is produced for each farmer. This data is used to calculate the carbon footprint for the beef produced. Through reporting, important feedback is provided to farmers to help them with their decision making on improving their production, economic and sustainability performance.
The key objectives of the SBLQAS are; to demonstrate to customers that quality beef is produced sustainably under an accredited Scheme; to provide a uniform mechanism for recording and monitoring: - quality assurance criteria, and - sustainability criteria for beef farms; to set out the criteria for best practice in Irish beef farming, and to provide an on-going means of demonstrating best practice at farmer level.
Impact on farm performance
There are many benefits from participation in the SBLQAS. In terms of socio-economic resilience, the SBLQAS verifies the quality standards of Irish beef in a transparent way that can be communicated to the purchasers and consumers which in turn help maximise the value of Irish beef at the point of sale. In addition, measuring, recording and reporting on key economic and environmental criteria can be used by the farmer to enhance both the financial and environmental performance on the farm including lowering costs. On environmental sustainability, the scheme clearly demonstrates and proves the commitment of Irish beef farmers to ‘green’ farming practices and sustainability.
The scheme aids the socio-economic resilience of Irish beef farms in many ways by improving the image of Irish beef in the market place, improving the economic performance on farms and also measuring and improving environmental sustainability on Irish beef farms. By compliance with the required standards, the scheme also improves animal health and welfare, production efficiency and meat quality.
At farm level, most beef processors pay a price premium of up to 20c/kg for animals that are Bord Bia Quality Assured and also meet other specific criteria under a Quality Payment System, thereby conferring an economic advantage directly to the farmer for been a member of the scheme.
Paul Balfe, beef farmer Rathill, Rathvilly, Co Carlow says “ The Bord Bia Sustainable Beef and Lamb Quality Assurance Scheme is essential in terms of promoting the positive image of Irish beef in both our domestic and many export markets. At farm level, the participation details are comprehensive and it is very important to keep good farm records. However, as well as market place benefits, the scheme also provides essential economic and environmental feedback to the farmer.”