History of the Ultimate beef
There is some evidence of genetic separation into the Wagyu genetic strain as much as 35000 years ago. Modern Wagyu cattle are the result of crossing of the native cattle in Japan with imported breeds. Crossing began in 1868 after the Meiji restoration in that year. The government wanted to introduce Western food habits and culture. Brown Swiss, Devon, Shorthorn, Simmental, Ayrshire, and Korean cattle were imported during this period. The infusions of these British, European and Asian breeds were closed to outside genetic infusions in 1910.
The variation of conformation within the Wagyu breed is greater than the variation across British and European breeds. The three major black strains – Tajiri or Tajima, Fujiyoshi (Shimane) and Kedaka (Tottori) evolved due to regional geographic isolation in Japan. These breeding differences have produced a Japanese national herd that comprises 90% black cattle with the remainder being of the red strains (Akaushi) Kochi and Kumamoto, which have been strongly influenced by Korean and European breeds, particularly Simmental.
Considered the caviar of beef in Japan, Wagyu (which literally means "Japanese cow") refers to specific breeds of cattle that come from a direct, traceable and pure bloodline.
In Japan there are four breeds that are considered Wagyu and those are the Japanese Black (the predominant Wagyu exported through the USA to Australia), Japanese Brown (Referred to as Red Wagyu in Australia), Japanese Polled and Japanese Shorthorn. There are no Japanese Polled or Shorthorns being bred outside Japan. Wagyu strains were isolated according to prefecture (state) and other breeds imported for crossing were not the same in each prefecture.
The production of Wagyu beef in Japan is highly regulated and progeny testing is mandatory. Only the very best proven genetics are kept for breeding..
For more than 200 years during the Edo Period (1603-1867), Japan's isolation from the outside world ensured the purity of its livestock, which over time became more and more homogenized.
When the country opened to world trade in the subsequent Meiji Era, Wagyu breeding accelerated.
Unlike cattle in other countries, which are often bred for a range of traits, Wagyu were and are raised with one goal in mind: supreme flavour.
Realizing the value of their unique product, the Japanese Government banned the export of Wagyu in the late 1990’s and declared them a national living treasure and banned exports of the cattle to other countries.
However, some embryos and live cattle had already been exported from Japan to the US, from where Australia sourced their first wagyu genetics in the early to mid-1990s. Since then, Australian producers have now grown their cattle numbers significantly, to the extent that Australia produces more wagyu cattle outside of Japan than anyone else.
In recent years, efficient marketing efforts have elevated Wagyu to near-divine status among fans of fine food and drink. But they've also led to an influx of 'gold diggers' that actually chose to crossbreed the Wagyu with Angus or other domestic cattle. These crossbred animals also referred to as ‘American-style’ or ‘American Wagyu’.
Still, it’s rare that you’ll ever see a brand boasting the title ‘crossbred’, because it just doesn’t sound very sexy. Unfortunately Wagyu in the United States only needs to have 48% original Wagyu genetics to be sold under the Wagyu name. By far the bulk of what is sold in the United States and Canada as Wagyu is at best 50% pure.
In fact, there are only about 26,000 real registered Full Blood Wagyu (or 0.028% of the total 92.9 million cattle in the USA and Canada), and they all have to meet standards set by the American Wagyu Association.