Irish dairy processors will now be able to provide verifiable proof that the milk used in their products and ingredients has come from grass fed cows with the launch of a ‘Grass Fed Standard’.
The scientifically supported standard has been launched by Bord Bia, the Irish Food Bord. Believed to be the world’s first such standard on a national scale, which allows it to track and verify the percentage of grass consumed in the diet of Irish dairy herds.
The Bord Bia Grass Fed Standard is a processor scheme which sets out the Grass Fed rules that must be adhered to for milk from individual farms, and for milk pooled for primary processing, to be classified as Grass Fed.
The minimum acceptable Grass Fed figure for an individual herd to qualify as Grass Fed is 90% on a fresh weight basis. This figure is achieved through the use of a scientific Grass Fed Dairy Model (which quantifies the volume of grass consumed by dairy cows) and Bord Bia web-based software to assess the Grass Fed status of the milk from individual farms for processing against the Grass Fed rules.
The model has been developed by Teagasc, the Irish Agriculture and Food Development Authority – at its Animal and Grassland Research and Innovation Centre, the leading research centre on milk production in Ireland – and will use data collected during the government-approved Sustainable Dairy Assurance Scheme (SDAS) on-farm audits to determine it meets the Grass Fed rules.
To meet the standard, Irish dairy herds need to enjoy a diet that is a minimum of 90% grass. Milk that is pooled from various dairy processors for processing must achieve a Grass Fed average of 95%.
In Ireland, dairy cows spend on average 240 full days a year out on pasture. It is expected that 99% of Irish dairy farms will meet the Grass Fed threshold due to the nature of Irish production systems.
Irish dairy producers will also have verifiable proof, in the form of a Grass Fed Standard logo, to support a Grass Fed claim on eligible products, which will help differentiate products.
The move acknowledges the growing consumer demand for greater clarity on the provenance of food and drink products, as well as the desire to purchase dairy from sustainable, Grass Fed farming systems.
In addition, consumers are becoming increasingly aware of the quality credentials and taste benefits of Grass Fed dairy, with research showing that Grass Fed would influence 50% of consumers globally in their choice of dairy; while a further 58% stated they would be willing to pay more for Grass Fed dairy.
“This initiative will allow producers using Irish dairy to differentiate their product to buyers across the foodservice and retail markets, and appeal to consumers who are increasingly seeking granular detail on the narrative and provenance of the products they buy,” said Mary Morrissey, Senior Dairy Manager at Bord Bia.
“Since the beginning of this year, the continued close relationship between the Irish Dairy industry and the UK is evident, with over £1 million worth of exports hitting UK shelves ensuring availability of core dairy products to the UK market.
“This initiative further strengthens this relationship and reinforces the trust UK consumers have in the high quality and sustainable farming methods of produce from Ireland.”
The Grass Fed Dairy Standard has been recognised by Irish National Accreditation Board (INAB) and Irish dairy processors are working to put in place the systems to have dairy products verified this year and into 2021.