Japanese Wagyu beef is prized for its famous flavor profile. The unique taste, texture, and tenderness is the product of famous Wagyu genetics, diet, and environment. Although this world-renowned beef creates an eating experience unlike any other, many become curious as to why authentic Japanese Wagyu is so expensive.
There are numerous factors that contribute to the pricing of Wagyu. Due to Japan’s geography, there is generally not much land available, making their cattle industry much smaller than that of the United States. Japanese feedlots will range from 10-100 cattle, which is significantly smaller than the thousands of cattle on a single domestic lot. This allows all Wagyu to be cared for and carefully monitored directly by farmers who have dedicated their lives to raising these unique cattle. Japanese Wagyu are also fed for over 600 days, often 700 days, on a special high energy diet. Although this prolonged feeding time requires remarkably more time and resources, this allows cattle to mature and fully marble. This is a very specialized way of caring for cattle, and differs greatly from domestic techniques. For reference, domestic beef programs will feed cattle for only approximately 120 days.
Japanese Wagyu are fed more than five times longer than domestic beef in the United States, and are cared for by farmers who create a low stress, proper environment that benefits all cattle. It is crucial Wagyu cattle are cared for properly; it is a top priority to treat Wagyu as well as they treat us. However, labor in Japan is expensive. Combine expensive labor with a decreasing amount of younger individuals entering the industry, and it becomes difficult to find such specialized farmers to care for Wagyu.
Another key attribute to authentic Japanese Wagyu is Japan’s security and traceability system. The transparency and security is second to none. At birth each nose print is taken, and a unique 10 digit code is given to each cattle. Each cattle identification number can be tracked here: https://www.id.nlbc.go.jp/CattleSearch/search/agreement_en
The Japanese National Livestock Breeding Center provides this service to protect consumers and businesses from fraudulent suppliers. The Wagyu beef reputation has been built upon hundreds of years of meticulous husbandry, and strict measures are taken to protect its authenticity. The unique cattle ID number allows literally anything to be traced. One can trace back the distributor, importer, exporter, processing plant, feedlot, breed, gender, date of birth, mother, father, and grandparents of each and every Wagyu cattle.
Aside from the prized techniques of raising, feeding, and tracking Wagyu cattle, there is additional cost when importing Japanese Wagyu to the United States. Currently (May 2019), there is an import quota on Japanese beef in the United States which stands at 200,000 kgs and includes the entire United States. Once this quota has been met, all Japanese beef is subject to a 26.4% import tax and this affects the overall price of authentic Wagyu as well.
Enjoying authentic Japanese Wagyu is much more than a simple, ordinary meal. The eating experience created with Wagyu emphasizes the rare genetics of full blood Wagyu, the decades of quality husbandry, and the attention to detail in security and traceability implemented. Authentic Wagyu is highly respected because it truly creates a window into a world and culture many have never known exists.