Number of wagyu beef export bases in Japan doubles in nine years; export to Islamic countries in mind

TOKYO, May 23 – The construction of beef processing facilities for export is accelerating in Japan to expand already-strong Japanese wagyu beef export. These facilities meet stringent requirements of European countries, the U.S., and new high-potential markets in Islamic countries. While the recovering demand in the restaurant industry elevates wagyu export volume significantly to hit a new record, the increase in certified beef production facilities will likely accelerate the move.

The beef exporters must process meat at facilities meeting standards provided by each importing country or region. According to the farm ministry of Japan, the number of certifications given to Japanese wagyu beef exporters by their primary markets, such as Hong Kong, the U.S., and the EU, has doubled in nine years to 40 as of the end of April 2023 from 22 in 2014.

Saga Prefecture produces Saga Beef, whose popularity is growing mainly in Asia. It aims to acquire new export certificates from nine countries and regions, including Hong Kong, already the destination of 60% of all Saga beef export, and the EU, a new promising market for Saga.

In June this year, the prefecture will start full-scale operation of its new beef processing facility at its high-performance meat processing center named Kakehashi (meaning a bridge in Japanese) that covers from meat production to processing. That means, instead of transporting cattle to a certified facility in Kagoshima (it takes six to seven hours), it can send cattle to the local facility in just one hour, reducing transportation risks and costs.

“We would like to create a positive spiral between increasing demands for inbound visitors and export. That way, we also want to make this program successful for beef producers,” an official of Saga Prefecture’s livestock section stressed.

There is also a move to explore new opportunities in the Islamic markets. Last autumn, in Hyogo Prefecture, Sanda Meat Center became the first Japanese facility to acquire an export certificate from Saudi Arabia. In February, the prefecture exported Kobe-brand beef to the Middle Eastern country. Kyushu, the southernmost island of Japan, is also following the move.

Major meat producers are also active. Itoham Yonekyu Holdings is increasing its wagyu export every year, and it plans to launch a new facility in Aomori Prefecture in the second half of fiscal 2023.

The company’s subsidiary Sankyo Meat has Japan’s largest certified facility. According to Isao Miyashita, president, the company would focus more on animal welfare (comfort-oriented livestock farming) and develop certified packing centers at existing facilities. “We plan to export more to our three primary markets, Hong Kong, the U.S., and Europe, and also to Taiwan, a rapidly growing market,” he said.

Japan’s beef exports are strong, with the volume hovering at the highest level ever from January to March. “Strong export will help us maintain the market price of carcasses. We’ll set up a sound system to support the rise of the overall level of the export, “an official of the farm ministry said.

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