Image credit: @shuichi.
A CCTV report has found that the majority of the meat listed as ‘Kobe beef’ in restaurants in Shanghai and Beijing is either fake or smuggled.
The term ‘Kobe beef’, like champagne, only applies to a specific product from a specific place, in this case Hyogo prefecture in Japan, of which Kobe is the capital city. China has banned the importation of beef from Japan since 2001 when cases of BSE were found in the country. Any ‘Kobe beef’ found in Chinese restaurants is therefore illegally smuggled into the country or, much more likely, fake.
At Forbes, Larry Olmstead has long been warning consumers of the ‘Great Kobe Beef Lie‘:
All the myths about cows getting massages and drinking beer while listening to classical music are just that, myths, but nonetheless real Kobe beef is produced under some of the world’s strictest legal food standards, whereas “domestic Kobe” beef production, along with that in Australia and South America, is as regulated as the Wild West. In Japan, to be Kobe requires a pure lineage of Tajima-gyu breed cattle (not any old Japanese breed crossbred with American cattle as is the norm here). The animal must also have been born in Hyogo prefecture and thus raised on the local grasses and water and terroir its entire life. It must be a bull or virgin cow, and it takes considerably longer to raise a Tajima-gyu for consumption than most other breeds, adding to the cost. It must be processed in a Hyogo slaughterhouse – none of which export to the US – and then pass a strict government grading exam. There are only 3000 head of certified Kobe Beef cattle in the world, and none are outside Japan. The process is so strict that when the beef is sold, either in stores or restaurants, it must carry the 10-digit identification number so customers know what particular Tajima-gyu cow it came from.
Restaurant owners admitted to CCTV that the beef they were serving came from Australian or domestic suppliers, not Japanese. Unlike the US, where there is no black market for the meat, a limited amount of real Kobe beef is smuggled into China, but in doing so avoids all food safety and quarantine checks.
[A pair of smugglers] were seen with six cases near a luggage carousel after the arrival of a plane at Shanghai’s Pudong International Airport from Narita in Japan, the report said. But, realizing they had been spotted, they ditched the cases and quickly left the airport.
Inspectors X-rayed the cases and found they were packed with beef weighing more than 160 kilograms.
The beef would have fetched an estimated 300,000 yuan if sold to Japanese restaurants, they said.
So if you’re considering splashing out for a Kobe beef steak in the near future, don’t. Put that money aside and save up for a trip to Japan, where you’ll actually be getting what you paid for.