OPINION I read with interest your article, “Beef exports good despite trade challenges.” Several glaring and misleading aspects appear in the article.
The article infers that demand for “excellent-quality beef” in Japan has grown from “upscale white-tablecloth” but Japanese do not use white tablecloths except in Western restaurants. The fact is that Japanese have been eating beef since the 12th century and particularly in the (previous) century – but only several times a year and largely in the form of sukiyaki or shabushabu for most Japanese. U.S. beef, however, cannot compete with the quality and marbling of Japanese beef. Japanese beef has more grades than the four that we use in the United States, and that is mostly attributed to the way the animals are raised and fed.
The article is critical of the prices paid for Japanese imported beef from the United States and seems to attribute that cost to the tariff. However in Japan, unlike in the United States, a living wage is paid to workers who are cutting boxed meat, packaging it, delivering it and working in the grocers. Further the cost of living in Japan is significantly more than that of most U.S. cities.
The article fails to appreciate the class structure and the cost of it in Japan related to meat packing. There are societal traits related to class structure carried over from centuries-old Buddhist-related thinking that necessitates an unspoken support for a certain class.
The critique raised in the article that tariffs create a competitive disadvantage that appears to arise from Japanese-imposed tariffs fails to acknowledge the bad mistaken trade policy, employed by the Trump administration in particular. Australia about four or five years ago negotiated a tariff structure at 40 percent less than that applied to other countries to be used for Australian beef exports to Japan in a tiered structure, depending on quota size. It was adjusted downward through five to six years and beginning at well less than the 38.5 percent noted in the article. The United States wanted a better deal and worked to get it under the Trans Pacific Partnership, which Trump irrationally rejected his third day in office.
Japanese residences lack ovens to cook roasts and rely on stove-top burners. They serve portions (that are) a small fraction of what is commonly consumed in the United States. Further they lack freezers to preserve meat until it’s prepared.
The advertisements I have seen in the Japanese media seem totally inappropriate. They often are full-page layouts in Japan’s main business paper, for example the Nihon Keizai Shimbun. They cost upward of $400,000 per page and are not targeted at housewives in magazines focused on cooking or women’s issues. Despite the Japanese practice of eating Korean-style plate-fried tongue, liver, tripe, etc., I have never seen U.S. beef marketing companies or the U.S. Department of Agriculture promoting that market, which Koreans have latched onto. The marketing in Japan is not matched to the culture.
The author failed to note that U.S. beef sales to Japan have decreased 16 percent year-on-year, in all probability because of the failure to join the Trans Pacific Partnership.
The market created by Packerland Packing years ago for sale of Prime Holstein beef in Japan is hardly different from that targeted by Angus beef. It’s not the breed that sells; it’s the level of quality that even Angus will find difficult, if not impossible, to match with its Prime Angus beef compared to Japanese beef.
These types of articles merely mislead farmers who are raising cattle. I grew up raising registered Aberdeen Angus beef cattle. I fed out and showed many of them in Iowa. I spent 20 years living and working in Japan; I now farm 20 miles southeast of Green Bay. Not once in my 20 years in Japan have I ever been served beef in any form in a Japanese home. Only about four times have I had beef, wagyu, in the form of sukiyaki or shabushabu in a restaurant with Japanese.
W. Michael Slattery