The agriculture ministry will pursue criminal charges against a man who tried to take the fertilized eggs of wagyu Japanese beef cattle into China, it was learned Tuesday.
“We’re taking procedures to file a criminal complaint” against the person, believed to be a Japanese national, in a bid to prevent similar cases and strengthen the management of wagyu cattle, said agriculture minister Takamori Yoshikawa.
Wagyu marbled beef is popular among both Japanese and foreign consumers.
The ministry plans to refer the man to the Osaka Prefectural Police on suspicion that he violated the law on domestic animal infectious diseases control.
According to ministry officials, the man left a port in Osaka Prefecture for Shanghai in July, carrying hundreds of fertilized wagyu eggs in a container. The eggs did not pass Chinese customs.
After he returned home, the man claimed that an acquaintance had asked him to transport the eggs and that he did not know the practice was illegal.
This is the first case in the last decade in which the transport of fertilized wagyu eggs out of Japan has been detected.
Japan bans the export of fertilized and unfertilized wagyu eggs and semen under the animal infectious diseases control law. In practice, however, it is not very difficult to smuggle wagyu eggs or semen abroad, critics say.
Yoshikawa suggested the latest case should have been prevented in Japan, saying that the special container he used must have been “easy” to recognize as suspicious.
The ministry will consider steps to prevent the smuggling of wagyu eggs and semen, while calling on shipping firms, airlines, customs authorities and others to remain vigilant.
The government aims to boost annual exports of wagyu and other beef to ¥25 billion by 2019. Last year, exports totaled ¥19.2 billion, with major importers including Hong Kong, the United States and Singapore.
The government is poised to strengthen the promotion of Japanese beef in Indonesia and other Southeast Asian countries.
Meanwhile, wagyu beef produced in Australia is already popular in Southeast Asian and other markets. The breeding of wagyu cattle in Australia is believed to have started using those taken from Japan in the past.
Japan’s beef industry is wary of any further spread of wagyu cattle overseas.
“Our efforts to improve the beef quality could end in vain,” an official of the Japan Livestock Products Export Promotion Council said.