Japanese Epidemic Could Hike Kobe Beef Prices

June 15, 2010

The worst foot-and-mouth disease to plague Japan in 102 years has hit hard the southern region of Miyazaki Prefecture.

The worst foot-and-mouth disease to plague Japan in 102 years has hit hard the southern region of Miyazaki Prefecture. This is the breeding ground for prized Miyazaki beef and also the origin point for calves that are sometimes sent to produce the Kobe brand some 280 miles away in Honshu.

Both brands command premiums for their prized quality and marbled fats. Short-term, U.S. and other international market prices could jump (from about $40 per quarter-pound here) because Japan banned beef exports since the initial outbreak was spotted in late-April, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture expanded its ban on Japanese meat in late-May to include Kobe beef. Meanwhile, Japan has sought to calm its domestic consumers by telling them that meat from infected cows is safe to eat, Susumu Harada, senior director, U.S. Meat Export Federation in Tokyo, told Bloomberg.

According to more recent New York Times coverage, nearly 35,000 cattle were due to be slaughtered in the Miyazaki region by this week to stem the spread of the disease, and 49 junior studs were already slaughtered despite fear such a move could cost a generation and “cripple cattle breeding in Miyazaki.”

Press accounts didn’t say if any cattle from Miyazaki were recently sent to the Kobe region. However, Kiyazaki has sequestered 18 young bulls to a remote area in an attempt to protect them from the disease. And Kobe “has dispersed its top bulls to reduce the chances of all the studs getting sick…[and] stocked up on two months’ worth of frozen stud semen,” the Times reported.

By comparison, 740 cattle were slaughtered during Japan’s previous outbreak in 2000, Bloomberg reported.  

Kobe beef is being refused U.S. entry in passenger baggage as well, the USDA told Hawaii News Now, which clarified that “humans cannot catch foot-and-mouth from animals, but they can carry the virus on their hair, skin and clothes.” 

What could help moderate any price impact in the U.S.? “Beef is produced under Kobe conditions on the Big Island and on the U.S. mainland, and this meat might be used to meet demand until it is again possible to get Kobe beef,” reported Hawaii News Now
That depends, however, on the recognized quality of such meat, the amounts produced, and the length of time the outbreak affects Japanese production, notes The Lempert Report.