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Branding of Wagyu Beef

With the rise of plant-based meat substitutes such as the Impossible Burger, one may forget about the increased global demand for Japanese Wagyu beef.

Characterized by high levels of intra-muscular fat (marbling) and a finer meat texture, Wagyu has become synonymous with the highest quality of beef. In Japanese, “Wagyu” literally means Japanese-style cow, and the four breeds of cattle used for Wagyu beef are all endemic to Japan. According to an article from The Japan Times, Japan’s most popular English-language newspaper, the Japanese government plans to double its production of Wagyu beef from 149,000 tons in 2018 to 300,000 tons by 2035. Unfortunately, this increase in demand has led to recent attempts to smuggle Wagyu cattle genetic material from Japan to foreign countries.

In 2018, a Chinese man was arrested for trying to bring a metal container filled with frozen Wagyu cattle sperm and eggs into China via a ferry from Osaka to Shanghai.

In response, Japan’s farm ministry proposed legislation intended to protect the intellectual property in Wagyu cattle eggs and sperm. Suffice it to say, the Japanese government is very concerned about the possibility of Wagyu cattle being raised in other countries without proper authorization.

Presumably, the ministry believes that the many generations of selective breeding and technical know-how of raising Wagyu cattle should be considered intellectual property. Furthermore, unsanctioned breeding may result in an inferior product which would tarnish the prestigious Wagyu name. This is the same rationale behind the French appellation d’origine contrôlée system which grants certifications, or appellations, to confirm certain French products were created in the regions they claim to be from (i.e. a Bordeaux wine must come from Bordeaux).

If the Japanese government were to create a system like that which exists in France, it would give Japanese authorities increased power to fine and prosecute the unauthorized use, purchase, sale, or export of Wagyu cattle genetic material.

The explosive growth in popularity of Wagyu beef is a rare (no pun intended) bit of good news for an otherwise grim Japanese economy. It is therefore imperative that the Japanese government protect one of its few bourgeoning industries.