You might have heard of wagyu beef revered as an expensive and rare marbled meat. People who want to try the meat – or have tried it’s delicious flavors learn that wagyu is raised differently from most kinds of cows – and that could be cause for concern.
How is wagyu beef treated? We want to eat meats that are raised with care for the animal and without suffering – or at least that we know about.
What is wagyu?
Wagyu meat is marbled in a spread out, even way, that provides an unusual appearance and a delicious taste. While the beef you buy at the grocery store or butcher shop typically has a solid red or pink block of meat with some marbling along the outsiders, wagyu has the marbling spread all over. The Japanese have made this into a craft that allows the soft fat and texture to be spread throughout the entire muscle of the cow, making the entire piece of meat a soft, buttery blend of meat and fat – without the toughness.
People in the United States will find wagyu beef to be hard to find and expensive. Why? Wagyu dna and animals may not be exported from Japan, where the process started. Finding a supplier of wagyu beef is thus a rather large challenge, though from a beef eater’s perspective, totally worth it.
How are wagyu beef cows raised?
Whether or not the methods used to raise wagyu beef cows are in part up to your own perception. Traditional beef cows are often raised grazing or within barns depending on the weather.
Here are the facts about how some types of wagyu beef is raised:
The humane side of wagyu
When looking at a site that promotes the selling and eating of wagyu beef, they say the cows graze and live in a stress free environment. They are put in a pen with four or five other cows compared to potentially dozens of cows at other farms. The cows are fed until they weigh about 1,500 pounds or are half fat.
The cows are fed three times per day with high quality ingredients, with the aim of gaining 2.5 pounds per day. Much of the process in a particular farms case is to avoid stressing out cows to make their muscles tense, as tense cows produce tough fet. While some farms help relax cows with classical music, this is mostly a myth regarding cow treatment.
The above methods do not sound inhumane, and actually quite nice and relaxing. However, other facts brought into wagyu beef raising raise questions about these particular methods.
The potentially inhumane side of wagyu
For some wagyu beef, the farmer stops the cow from moving by placing the cow in an overcrowded pen, or even raising it up so it can’t touch the ground. A cow that is crowded in or raised up can’t lie down or use it’s muscles – making the cow’s muscle tissues soft and fatty.
Cows can also be force fed, though not with a funnel down the throat like ducks making foie gras. Cows don’t have that level of force feeding, but their appetites are often enhanced by giving them beer or sake.
Another issue people find with wagyu, which again doesn’t apply to ever cow – is that wagyu cows can be separate from their mothers are a young age to be fed differently with carbohydrates rather than the protein they need.
Near the end of the raising process, cows can actually receive massages to keep the muscle and fat growing, which helps the fat circulate evenly in the muscle.
The question about wagyu and inhumane methods comes down to how the farm involved actually raises the cow, and what you consider inhumane. If you consider anything but letting the cow roam free to do what it wants, you might think wagyu is inhumane because the cow is not in control. You might think it’s inhumane to raise a cow for fattening, then preventing it from moving.
Our suggestion is to look at the individual business.
How is wagyu killed?
Again, this varies, but most wagyu cows are killed by a stunning blow to the head. The farm then raises the cow by it’s legs to allow blood to drain down, then cuts their throat to let the blood out. This process is actually pretty common amongst animals raised for meat – and we’ve heard worse.
Do your research on wagyu
While we can provide a good comparison and give you details about how wagyu cows are raised, to find a specific answer you’ll want to ask the business you are buying from.
Wagyu itself is a very high standard for beef. The question you can ask is how they raise the beef to the standard.
One important thing to consider for a business and wagyu is knowing how cows would prefer to be raised in nature. A cow could potentially put lots of weight on under the right conditions, and eat from grasses suited for their stomach. A dairy or beef cow tends to be fed grain because the cow would otherwise be lean. With that said, you might question the ethics and humanity of raising traditional beef cows and other animals too.
To reiterate, whether or not the raising of wagyu cows for their beef is unethical is up to you, and the farm. Some farms have unique methods of raising wagyu cows that avoid force feeding and let the cows run around more. If you are going to a restaurant, ask the server how the cows were raised (if they know) and make your decision based on that information. If you don’t want to support the raising of cows in certain situations, don’t buy the product.
That said, the raising of cows for wagyu sounds like a unique process to get the best possible meat from a cow, and often involves a relaxing environment with plentiful food.