Mad-cow ban lifted, Japanese wagyu targets lucrative Australian market

Posted by Aimee Chanthadavong on 15th October 2018

EVEN though Australia lifted its 17-year ban on Japanese beef imports in May, the amount of Japanese wagyu being imported into the country only makes up a fraction of the Australian beef market.

The Australian government initially imposed the ban in 2001, following the outbreak of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, commonly known as “mad cow disease”, in Japan. Since then, Australian farmers have been breeding their own wagyu beef using 100 per cent Japanese wagyu beef genetics, either for pure breeds or cross-breeding with other genetics such as Angus.

Due to the size of the domestic wagyu market, Australian Wagyu Association CEO Mac MacDonagh believes the importation of Japanese wagyu is unlikely to have any real impact on the Australian market, predicting the very low volumes of products that will come in are likely to target a niche market.

“The cost of production for Japanese wagyu is so high they can’t really compete in the domestic market against Australian products on price point. But there certainly is a novelty around the import of Japanese wagyu and the wagyu that Japan do export is of a very high quality,” Mr Mac MacDonagh said.

“There’s a high interest in the Australian consumer base to have the Japanese wagyu experience, as there’s a lot of mystique and prestige associated with that luxury brand of wagyu.

“However, it’s of high interest to a very, very small component of the Australian consumer base, which would experience that through a boutique butcher or a high-end, luxury restaurant.”

Same but different

It’s this quality of wagyu beef that meat importer and exporter Clayton Wright of Clover Valley Meat Company, which supplies meat to leading chefs, including Tetsuya Wakuda, hopes will raise the current benchmark for what is considered as wagyu in Australia.

“It has been quite eye opening for the Australian food scene because they were benchmarking against the best Australian wagyu. When they saw the Japanese wagyu, they were taken aback by how different Australian wagyu was compared to what they thought was the best of the best.”

Wright said it’s a bit like comparing Australian serrano ham with Spanish serrano ham, or Australian sparkling wine with French champagne. “It’s the same grape, same production, but completely different,” he said.

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