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Wagyu Beef Moves from Pastures to Petri Dishes

21 January 2019

JAPAN - For decades, Japanese farmers have been perfecting melt-in-your-mouth beef that has gained a cult following worldwide. But one producer is going a step further and exploring whether wagyu can be grown in a lab.

Toriyama, which makes one of the most popular wagyu brands in eastern Japan's Gunma Prefecture, struck a deal with Silicon Valley food technology startup Just in December to jointly develop cultured meat using wagyu cells.

The rare partnership between a 70-year-old family business and a startup looking to disrupt the farming industry is an attempt to combine tradition with cutting-edge science and create affordable meat to feed the world's growing population.

It could also be an indicator of whether the broader wagyu industry - which is enjoying high overseas demand but faces the demographic challenge of an aging farmer population - is willing to embrace foreign technology.

"Humans and livestock are competing for grains," Toriyama President Makoto Toriyama said in an interview. "In Japan, which is not self-sufficient on food, the cost of production will only increase. We thought we can help solve this problem."

Toriyama will initially export wagyu meat to Just, which will isolate cells and try to culture them -- feeding proteins and other nutrients to grow tissue - into pieces of meat.

The goal is to lower the cost of production while modifying the texture and flavor of the meat so that consumers cannot tell the difference from the flesh of actual livestock.

The companies do not have a target date for a final product but aim to "make progress" in 2019. Once a product has been developed, Singapore-based Awano Food Group, Toriyama's export agent, will distribute it.

Growing doubts about the sustainability of the conventional meat production system are driving high-tech endeavors like Toriyama and Just's. The US startup aims to become a trailblazer in cultured meat, which proponents hope will enable production without harming animals.

The company, which also sells plant-based substitutes for mayonnaise, eggs and other food products, plans to soon introduce cultured chicken in a restaurant.

To continue reading this story, please click here.

Source: Nikkei Asian Review

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