Se­cur­ing a fu­ture for British beef

Country Life Every Week - - Letters To The Editor -

WE British are wont to cel­e­brate the ‘roast beef of old Eng­land’, but there’s no doubt that we’ve lost out to the Ja­panese when­ever the se­ri­ously rich pick their steak. Kobe beef tops ex­pen­sive menus the world over, yet few re­alise that it was first pop­u­larised by the English. When, in the mid­dle of the 19th cen­tury, the young Em­peror Meiji lifted the ban on meat eat­ing, it was the British Con­sul who wrote home com­mend­ing the wagyu beef from the re­gion round Kobe, com­ment­ing in par­tic­u­lar upon the way the cat­tle were bred and reared. What’s more, it was British store­keep­ers who pro­vided the beef for the for­eign ships that in­creas­ingly called into Ja­pan.

Un­til Ja­pan opened up to the world, cat­tle had been prized as a beast of bur­den, pulling heavy wooden ploughs through the fields. For cen­turies, the Ja­panese were for­bid­den meat. Even dur­ing that time, Kobe was fa­mous for its cat­tle and, once the mar­ket was opened up, it pro­vided huge num­bers of an­i­mals for the British vict­ualling busi­nesses.

To­day, the Ja­panese un­der­stand just how spe­cial is their in­her­i­tance. A good steak res­tau­rant in Tokyo or Ky­oto will present the diner with a doc­u­ment lay­ing out a fam­ily tree—not of the owner, but of the pedi­gree of the meat you are about to eat. The farm, the an­i­mal, its par­ents and grand­par­ents are care­fully pre­sented on a sheet given be­fore you choose your cut. The restau­ra­teurs know you’ve come for qual­ity. You want to know where the beef comes from and that it is in­deed what it claims to be.

Th­ese are not the huge steaks that pass for qual­ity in the USA, fat­tened you know not where and fed on you know not what. In­stead, you get, at most, 5oz of ut­terly prime beef, from a known source and with a known his­tory. Yes, it’s ex­pen­sive, but it’s all any­one could rea­son­ably want.

What a lot th­ese Ja­panese pro­duc­ers have to teach us. We in Bri­tain have too of­ten sac­ri­ficed qual­ity for quan­tity. By mak­ing beef a com­mod­ity, we have re­duced its value and made it com­mon­place, not unique. As a re­sult, it’s not seen as spe­cial and doesn’t command a spe­cial price, so farm­ers have to pro­duce more and more sim­ply to make a liv­ing. That’s led to over-stock­ing and the in­dus­tri­alised farm­ing that re­volts so many.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Wagyu beef, nat­u­rally pas­tured and prop­erly man­aged, com­mands five times the price of the av­er­age car­cass. It can’t be called Kobe, which now has a sta­tus akin to a French ap­pel­la­tion con­trolée, but, it can, un­der the more gen­eral name wagyu, be pro­duced by spe­cial­ist farm­ers out­side Ja­pan. Up to now, that’s meant Aus­tralia and the USA, but, at last, it’s come to Bri­tain. Many years of pa­tient hus­bandry have en­abled An­drew Dea­con’s busi­ness to reach full ma­tu­rity. From his herd of 400 head in Suf­folk, he sup­plies some of the best-known res­tau­rants in the coun­try and the Breed­ers As­so­ci­a­tion, formed in 2014, is now seek­ing De­fra ap­proval for a breed so­ci­ety.

In a post-brexit world, this is the kind of hus­bandry we will need if British agri­cul­ture isn’t to be dec­i­mated. We’re go­ing to have to con­cen­trate on qual­ity not quan­tity. It shouldn’t just be wagyu beef that com­mands a pre­mium—the great British breeds should be re­ceiv­ing the same at­ten­tion. Iden­ti­fy­ing the farm, the parent­age and the feed­ing regime, ask­ing for a price based on qual­ity not size, re­claim­ing the world for the Aberdeen Angus and re­fus­ing to pro­duce mere com­mod­ity meat: that’s the fu­ture for beef in Bri­tain.

‘By mak­ing beef a com­mod­ity, we have re­duced its value and made it com­mon­place

Fol­low @agromenes on Twit­ter

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.