Updated: Feb 22, 2019 18:44 IST
Osaka [Japan], Feb 22 (ANI): The Japanese police arrested a man from Osaka trying to take genetic material of the country’s prized Wagyu cattle to China raising alarm in an indsutry that zealously guards its secrets and reputation.
The authorities searched the sexagenarian man’s home, after he attempted to export the fertilised eggs and sperm of Wagyu cattle to China last year, reported South China Morning Post.
According to the Yomiuri newspaper report, the man had taken a ferry from Osaka to Shanghai in July with a metal container filled with liquid nitrogen and containing hundreds of samples of frozen eggs and sperm.
However, he was stopped by Chinese customs for not having proper certification. On returning to Osaka, the man applied for appropriate paperwork from Japanese customs officials. This led to an investigation.
The Chinese man has been charged by authorities with violating the Domestic Animal Infectious Diseases Control Law. It carries a maximum penalty of up to three years in prison or a fine of USCD 9,000.
According to the man, he did not know it was illegal to take genetic material abroad and had been asked by an ‘acquaintance’ to deliver the frozen samples to a Chinese who would meet him in Shanghai.
This was the first time the law had been applied to an attempt to illegally take genetic materials out of the country.
An official of the agricultural ministry in Tokyo, who declined to be named, told the South China Morning Post that the breeds of cattle, recognised as Wagyu are unique to Japan and need to be protected for their genetic resources and kept inside Japan.
“The worry is that if these materials are used to breed cattle in China, then that country will develop a Wagyu industry and they can sell their products anywhere in the world, bearing the Wagyu name,” the official said, adding that there is a high possibility that China might start exporting Wagyu beef to Japan because their labour costs are low.
“They could farm on a very large scale, making their beef products far cheaper. And we must also be worried about the quality of any Wagyu that is raised in another country because is the quality of the meat is poor then it can damage the reputation of all Wagyu beef,” the official stated
Known as the ‘Rolls-Royce of beef’, demand for Wagyu is surging around the world and Japanese producers have reported a sharp rise in exports, helping the protein to reach record high prices.
According to Wagyu aficionados, the key to a perfect Wagyu stake is the marbling — the intramuscular fat that gives Wagyu its silky texture and high price tag.
A small steak in an average teppanyaki restaurant in Japan will typically cost 8,000 yen, but prices are fickle, rising dramatically from time to time.
Japanese Wagyu comes from one of four domestic breeds: Japanese Black, Brown, Shorthorn and Polled. Calves are registered by breed and about 4,00,000 Japanese Black – the commonest of the four breeds – are born every year. Cattle are raised for 900 days , which is 10 months longer than most beef cattle.
Kazuhiro Tanaka, director of the Livestock Division of Kagoshima Prefecture, which has a large Wagyu sector, said, “We have to protect our industry and we cannot afford to export the genetic material that would allow other countries to produce Wagyu,” adding, “They could very quickly become our rivals and, if they do it on a big scale, it could destroy our industry. But poor quality meat could also hurt the reputation that our farmers have built up over the years. We must do everything we can to make sure that Wagyu remains a success.”
Japan’s beef exports surpassed 20 billion yen in 2018, nearly double the 2015 figure, and the government has set an ambitious target of 25 billion yen in exports in 2020. (ANI)