Tsubame (Swallow) Corp., operator of the Tsubame restaurant chain in Tokyo and Kanagawa Prefecture, goes to great lengths to display information on the beef served at each of its 21 outlets.
Tsubame has developed its own system to identify each cattle part in its bid to disclose accurate information on the beef it uses.
There has been growing consumer interest in beef safety since the first case of mad cow disease was confirmed in Japan in 2001. The government banned imports of beef and beef products from the United States late last year after a Holstein there tested positive for the disease.
Then there was an outbreak of bird flu in Asia earlier this year.
Tsubame implemented its system even before the beef traceability law became applicable to meat producers in December 2003.
The law requires they include 10-digit identification numbers on packages of beef sold at supermarkets and other stores.
Retailers and restaurants where beef dishes account for more than 50 percent of sales are obliged to follow the law starting this December.
“Yakiniku,” “shabu shabu,” steak and sukiyaki restaurants will be among them.
Using the individual identification numbers, consumers can go to the Web site of the National Livestock Breeding Center and find information on cow births and how the cows were bred.
But the law will not cover foreign beef, ground meat and cow innards.
Tsubame uses 2 1/2 cows a day on average.
It stores its evaluation of the meat in a database on the basis of individual identification numbers and meat producers.
The information is passed on to the meat producers to help them improve the quality of the animals they raise.
Yasumi Koura, managing director of Tsubame, came up with the idea of displaying the information at the chain’s restaurants because he wanted his customers to know where the livestock was raised.
“Our customers show a keen interest in (the meat) and ask questions about our system,” said the manager of the Tsubame restaurant in Shinagawa Ward, Tokyo.
The restaurant industry as a whole has been slow to disclose livestock records.
Companies that have served U.S. beef could get records on beef cattle just prior to being sent to slaughterhouses, but they cannot track information on how they were brought to stock farms, according to Yoshinoya D&C Co.
The All-Japan Yakiniku Association, comprising small and midsize beef businesses, has proposed that its member restaurants list individual numbers on such menu items as roast beef and meat taken from parts around beef ribs.
The Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry expects that about 20,000 yakiniku, shabu shabu, steak and sukiyaki restaurants will introduce a display formula of this kind, and some have already started making preparations.
Industry sources said consumers are likely to witness an obvious disparity in the disclosure of information between these restaurants and “gyudon” beef and rice eateries and fast-food hamburger joints that rely heavily on foreign beef.
An official for a major family restaurant chain said it is doubtful whether consumers really want information that includes identification numbers of individual cattle.