If you've had the special experience of tasting A5 Wagyu beef for yourself, you understand why it has become a such a highly revered delicacy in the United States and throughout the world. Its richly marbled texture is second to none, unfound in any other form, from any other breed. Naturally, the demand for such a product is high. And yet Wagyu is still relatively hard to find on menus and at supermarkets in the U.S. But why is that?
It all comes down to the way they are raised. Cultivated solely in Japan, authentic Wagyu is harvested from four esteemed Japanese breeds: Black, Brown, Shorthorn and Polled. Japanese Black Wagyu cattle are among the most popular, making up about 90% of all Wagyu beef cows in Japan. A5 Wagyu is the highest-graded and most expensive form of Wagyu.
Here are some of the specific reasons A5 Wagyu can't, and probably won't ever, be factory farmed.
Wagyu Thrive in Low-Stress Environments
Unlike the ever-present Angus cattle of the United States, Black Wagyu cattle take longer to mature and require more pampering. Note: unfortunately for our bovine friends, it is a common myth that Wagyu cattle get daily massages!
To mass produce beef of any kind, a large number of cows must live in a small space together. Sadly, these large-scale breeding and factory farming setups put a lot of stress on the animals. It turns out that excessive cattle stress poorly affects beef tenderness and flavor. This happens because stress raises the cattle's adrenaline levels, causing muscle tensing that toughens up the meat.
At the same time, just like in humans, a cow's fat deposits are treated as energy reserves. Therefore, the more stress incurred and energy expended, the more fat will be used up. The low-stress grazing environments of authentic Wagyu contribute to a much more abundantly marbled cow. But low-stress grazing requires a lot of wide, open space, and that comes in short supply and at a high cost in Japan and around the world.
Wagyu Consume High-Quality Feed
Additionally, to achieve the signature tenderness and buttery flavor for which Wagyu is known, they must be fed a high-quality, expensive diet, much of which is imported from around the world. Unlike some cattle farming practices, Wagyu production doesn't rely on hormones or drugs. This means that raising these breeds is extremely costly and time-consuming.
Wagyu Production is Limited by Regulation
One more thing preventing a large-scale Wagyu explosion is the fact that these cattle are highly prized and protected by the Japanese, who have great pride in their cultivation. Heavy restrictions often prevent the import of live cattle into the United States, and authentic Wagyu must be rated by the Japanese according to their own system. Therefore, a truly global or mass-scale production would have to comply with strict Japanese regulations.
Preserving the A5 Legacy
While many factors limit large-scale Wagyu operations from flourishing, it's really the high cost of feed and land that is the most prohibitive. Although we all want more Wagyu, it's important that we preserve the integrity of A5 Wagyu beef. It's the care, stress-free environment and stringent regulations that make Wagyu the coveted indulgence that it is, and we certainly don't want to compromise that.