WAGYU cattle farmers will introduce genetic testing and tougher certification to protect their prized meat from unscrupulous suppliers who charge premium prices for meat from inferior breeds of cattle.
Several prominent breeders claim more than 90 per cent of meat advertised as wagyu comes from cattle crossed with the rare Japanese breed, while some restaurants and butchers are deliberately substituting cheaper steaks.
Wagyu beef commands up to $150 a kilogram, with its value determined by the level of intramuscular fat, or marbling, which delivers the rich flavours that drive demand on international export markets.
Wagyu cattle cross-bred with other breeds, such as Angus and Holstein, have significantly lower levels of marbling, but are often advertised as full-blood wagyu.
Australian Wagyu Association chief executive Graham Truscott confirmed a new accreditation system would be implemented within 12 months to safeguard the integrity of the product.
''For truth in advertising, people should be labelling wagyu for what it is, so the market is fully informed and consumers get what they pay for. We're obviously concerned about this and the new system that will help verify the credentials of the end product,'' Mr Truscott said.
He said the association was also developing a genome test that would provide a precise measurement of wagyu content from the animal's DNA.
''We have a collaborative genetic research program under way, which should be ready by May next year, which will also determine the quality of the product, including the level of marbling,'' Mr Truscott said.
Former Melbourne University academic Bob Officer runs a herd of 350 full-blood wagyu cattle at his King Valley farm near Wangaratta. He told The Sunday Age that several Melbourne restaurants were misleading customers by providing meat from other breeds, but claiming it was wagyu.
''There is enormous passing off right through the trade. I've been to several top-end restaurants and I reckon they've run out of wagyu and put up an Angus steak. It was quite a good steak, but I always ask to see the steak before it's cooked and they will tell me it's marbled to a certain level, when it's clearly not,'' Mr Officer said.
He criticised an advertising campaign by the Subway restaurant chain last year, which promoted wagyu beef on their sandwich menu.
''I know where that [meat] was coming from and it was fairly rough stuff,'' he said.
David Blackmore, Victoria's most prominent wagyu breeder who famously provided steaks for the Academy Awards after-party, says at least four overseas and local suppliers had fraudulently claimed to have provided Blackmore wagyu.
On one occasion, lower-grade meat from a New South Wales abattoir was marked with a counterfeit Blackmore seal and exported to supermarkets in Hong Kong.
Mr Blackmore said Meat & Livestock Australia, which represents more than 47,000 cattle and sheep farmers, needed to take a lead role in protecting the integrity of wagyu.
''It shouldn't be called wagyu unless it's 100 per cent, which needs to be proven by genetics. We have rules in place, but no one is enforcing them. Someone has to get off their backside and sort this out and I don't think it's the responsibility of the Australian Wagyu Association.''
MLA did not respond to several calls from The Sunday Age.
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