Beef cattle breeding in Korea lies 20 years behind Japan

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Beef cattle breeding in Korea lies 20 years behind Japan


Kobe beef and Matsuzaka beef are said to be the best quality wagyu in Japan. [JoongAng Ilbo]

Japan has its own breeding system for producing high-quality beef. It’s called wagyu, Japan’s equivalent of hanwoo, which refers to cattle bred domestically.

The difference is the breeding system in Japan has been in place a century longer than in Korea.

A single hanwoo cow usually sells for 6.5 million won ($6,400) but wagyu beef cattle commands a 9-million-won price tag. Some wagyu cattle are known to cost as much as 400 million won. There are several breeds ? black or brown ? but the main breed is the black, which accounts for about 80 percent of the total wagyu cattle.

Japan took the decision to breed beef cattle at the end of the 19th century. Wagyu cattle was a working animal, but in 100 years it became a prime source of meat. Bigger cattle from America and Europe were imported in order to improve the domestic breed.

These breeding techniques were dropped after a few years as the meat quality fell. From then on, the breeding method focused instead on tinkering with pure wagyu breeds and other minor breed cattle.

In 1977, feeling that beef quality had reached its pinnacle, Japan officially crowned wagyu its official beef cattle. In 1991, when Japan began to import beef, 70 percent of wagyu beef qualified for prime beef compared to only 3 percent of U.S. beef.

Japan has implemented a strict registration system for the last two decades under which the origins of all wagyu beef cattle are recorded.

Cheong Yong-ho, an official at the Korea Animal Improvement Association, said Korea’s registration system only accounted for 60 percent of the cattle population. “The technological gap in cattle breeding between Japan and South Korea is about 20 years,” said Cheong. Japan’s wagyu breeding system is operated on a precinct base, increasing the risk of interbreeding. But there is also an upside to this process, experts say, as specific wagyu brands can be groomed. Currently, Kobe wagyu beef and Matsuzaka wagyu beef are considered the best quality.


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