COALINGA, CALIF. — COALINGA, CALIF.-- Some ranchers think a fat, black, sway-backed breed of Japanese cattle may do for the U.S. cattle industry what the American silicon chip has done for the Japanese computer industry.
"This could be a tremendous breakthrough for our cattle industry," said Dave Wood, chairman of the Harris Ranch beef division. "This may be the most exciting thing ever."
Wood was referring to recent studies at Texas A&M University that found striking differences between the fat from typical cattle and that from a prized Japanese breed called Wagyu.
Only one-third of the fat in Wagyu meat is saturated, the kind closely linked to heart disease, compared to the usual half, said Dave Lunt, who conducted the studies.
The discovery, duplicated by Jan Busboom at Washington State University, could lead to a major shift in consumer attitudes toward beef if the Wagyu trait is bred into mainstream cattle, Mr. Wood said.
Dr. Lunt agrees but cautions that much work must be done before healthier steaks hit the nation's meat markets.
Simply replacing Black Angus and other breeds will not do the trick, he said, because while Wagyu appear to have a healthier type of fat, they also have much more of it: Their meat is often 28 percent fat, compared to the 11 percent in well-trimmed U.S. prime beef.