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ECONOMY > Agriculture

Editorial: Act swiftly to keep wagyu genetic resources from flowing out of Japan

  • March 13, 2019
  • , The Japan News , 7:51 p.m.
  • English Press

Wagyu beef cattle — Japanese breeds that are a valuable brand for this country — are being eyed as a target of acquisition overseas. This has been clearly illustrated by the latest case of attempted acquisition.


The Osaka prefectural police have arrested two men on suspicion of taking wagyu sperm and fertilized eggs out of Japan to China in violation of the Domestic Animal Infectious Diseases Control Law and the Customs Law. One of the two is suspected of having attempted to carry the articles into China, with the other believed to have given necessary directions.


“I was asked [to do it] by a Chinese person,” the latter man has told the police. A livestock farmer in Tokushima Prefecture, who sold the fertilized eggs and other items, explained to the police, saying, “I sold them to a man with whom I had no previous acquaintance for several million yen.” The Osaka prefectural police should uncover the whole truth behind the case.


The import and export of livestock require agreements to be concluded with partner countries. However, there is no such agreement about sperm and fertilized eggs from wagyu cattle, virtually banning the export of such items.


Meanwhile, no domestic law exists for the protection of livestock genetic resources. It is safe to say this legal flaw is illustrated by the fact the prefectural police have applied to the latest case the Domestic Animal Infectious Diseases Control Law, which seeks to prevent contagious diseases among domestic animals. In arresting the two men, the police alleged that they had not subjected the articles in question to a quarantine inspection, among other things.


Wagyu, whose meat has a fine, soft texture, has high brand value overseas, too. The value of wagyu beef exports had nearly quadrupled over a five-year period up to the end of 2018. This was a result of continued efforts by livestock farmers and others to improve the quality of wagyu beef.


If wagyu genetic resources have flowed out of this country and are used for crossbreeding with cattle raised abroad, it could lead to the widespread births of cattle whose meat resembles that of wagyu. It is vital to avert a situation in which the amount of wagyu beef exports from Japan decreases, dealing a serious blow to domestic livestock farmers.


Shady strawberries


The Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry has established a panel of experts tasked with studying such issues as legislative measures to protect domestic livestock’s genetic resources. Although the ministry promoted similar discussions from 2006 to 2007, it decided not to adopt such legislative steps, due to difficulties in securing the uniform quality of these resources and protecting them as intellectual property.


The key to enacting such legislation is overcoming these difficult problems.


The collection and sale of wagyu sperm and fertilized eggs is limited to facilities authorized by prefectural governments. In selling them, it is obligatory to issue a certificate that states the date of collection and other data, but there are no restrictions on buyers of such articles.


The livestock farmer from whom the sperm and fertilized eggs were obtained in this case did have permission for his conduct, but he did not hand over a pertinent certificate.


It is essential for administrative authorities to reinforce supervision in this respect, such as strictly confirming to whom wagyu genetic resources will be sold. Another measure is to conduct thorough baggage inspections at airports and harbors. Such measures should be shored up without the need to wait for legislation.


Wagyu is not alone in facing a critical situation. Seeds and seedlings of Tochiotome, a strawberry brand developed by the Tochigi prefectural government, were brought into South Korea, where the branded strawberries were crossbred with a different strawberry variety. The strawberries thus cultivated appeared on the market as a new variety. The resulting losses are estimated to have reached ¥22 billion over a five-year period.


The whole government should quickly facilitate a system for defending our nation’s genetic resources.

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