Japan is set to take the battle over proprietary eats to the next level. Suggested guidelines from the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries recommend that the name of Wagyu beef be patented … along with its genetic sequencing.
A fascinating write-up in Gastronomica (not available online, sorry) details the ins and outs of the guidelines, which include distribution control over Wagyu breeding by means of mandatory bar codes on every, uh, semen straw. Semen straw. Oh, man. Whoo.
At any rate, the guidelines also call for intensified research into the genetic sequencing that makes the cattle a distinctive breed. The proposal—still under review by Japan’s Fair Trade Commission—raises the specter of a genetic/terroir arms race, wherein any country with a unique product or strain of animal will race to “patent” its food by genetic exploration and lawsuit-defended proprietary definition of the real deal.
In the process of exploring the drive for a Wagyu patent, the Gastronomica piece also does an excellent job of briefly tracing the meat—known for its luxurious heavy fat marbling—back through the centuries. Among other things, the piece reveals that for the Japanese, eating beef is a relatively recent thing. Until 1871, imperial law forbade the consumption of beef, but rapid Westernization of the country transformed cattle from an ancient taboo into a trendy symbol of embracing the outside world.