The Vast Majority of Kobe Beef Is Fake and Japan Wants to Fix the Problem

By Mike Pomranz |

© Dr. Antonio Comia / Getty Images

Think you love Kobe beef? Think again. More likely than not you’ve actually been catfished by some sort of imposter beef pretending to be the pricey meat from Japan. And now, Japanese producers want to do something about all that mislabeling.

First, the stats: According to the Kobe Beef Marketing & Distribution Promotion Association, only nine restaurants in all of American serve legitimate Kobe beef. And if you think, well, maybe that’s the case now, but I had Kobe beef in the past, you’re probably wrong again: According to Forbes, effectively no authentic Kobe beef was imported into the US between 2001 and 2012.

So what exactly was on all those menus? According to Eater, real Kobe beef not only has to come from the Hyogo Prefecture region of Japan, but also has to meet other requirements to maintain its Kobe status. Only about 5,000 cattle are up to the challenge each year, and only about 10 percent of those are exported outside of Japan. Everything else labeled Kobe is more likely Wagyu, or simply Japanese beef, but even that meat can fall into one of three groups: cattle actually raised in Japan, beef from cattle that are of a pure Japanese bloodline raised outside of Japan, or mutt-meat – beef from a mixed breed of Japanese and other cattle.

All these different meats can be labeled with names like “Japanese beef” or “Wagyu” or “American Kobe” because the USDA doesn’t regulate it. Japan, however, might soon protect the most precious of these labels: Kobe. Back in August, Japanese producers applied for a “geographic indication” label – similar to what Champagne or Parmigiano Reggiano cheese have. If accepted later this year, it could official nail down what constitutes Kobe beef once and for all.

The ramification for American restaurants is complex, but at the very least, it seems this might at least clear up any confusion on what the term means. “In the past, they may not have known any better. Now they might need to,” Charles Gaskins of the American Wagyu Association told Eater.

Yeah, if you’re charging $100 for a hamburger, you should probably know why. 

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