The Australian Wagyu Association (AWA) has developed a genomic test to determine the level of Japanese Black (Black Wagyu) in non-pedigreed crossbred animals. The Crossbred Wagyu Test (CWT) will help the supply chain determine feeding regimes and the propensity of cattle to produce a genuine Wagyu eating experience.
AWA’s Carel Teseling explains the purposes of the test, how it works and delves into the prefectural nuances of the breed in Japan.
The Australian Wagyu Association has developed a genomic test to determine the level of Japanese Black (Black Wagyu) content in a DNA sample from a crossbred animal. The test measures Black Wagyu content in terms of the animal’s relationship to the mainstream Black Wagyu sub-population available in Australia. While some Australian fullblood animals will return lower CWT values, this needs to be recognised as an indication of their importance as “outliers” within the local gene pool, and the valuable contribution they can make to maintaining genetic diversity and providing future selection flexibility. Further development work will endeavour to measure better define these outlier populations, which have already been identified as descendants of specific, original Japanese Black prefectural herds.
To learn more about the test works, click here to download (pdf 326 kb)
Frequently asked questions about the Crossbred Wagyu Test (CWT) are listed below. If you need more information, please contact us.
Q. What is the key objective of the CWT?
The primary objective of the CWT is the provision of an accurate, easily deployed quality assurance tool for the commercial crossbred Wagyu industry in Australia, and possibly other Wagyu producers outside Japan. Most Australian commercial production involves crossbreeding from Japanese Black sires and occurs without subsequent formal parent verification of the Wagyu calf crop, which requires a complex DNA-based process in multi-sire commercial environments. The CWT will offer a new inexpensive tool to allow producers, buyers, and processors to sample Wagyu content in commercial cattle mobs to determine optimum feeding regimes, processing, and marketing.
A similar Quality Assurance sampling opportunity might be available to boxed beef processors, who may be packaging and promoting Wagyu beef by ‘Percentage Wagyu’ guidelines.
Finally, AWA has also created the Wagyu Content Register, which enables high-performance animals with unknown pedigree but CWT-proven Japanese Black percentage to be registered. The Content Register will facilitate the registration of Black Wagyu animals that were previously ‘lost’ as breeding animals. Content Register animals may in future qualify for enhanced value sales or the commencement of new pedigree trees.
Q. Who will manage the use of the CWT in the Australian market?
The Australian Wagyu Association is a not-for-profit member organisation, and the CWT is a commercial product. To effectively manage this AWA has created a new legal entity and wholly owned subsidiary, called Wagyu Services Pty Ltd, which will manage licensing, risk and other commercial market facets of the CWT. Wagyu Services Pty Ltd will reside with AWA in Armidale, NSW.
Q. Does the CWT challenge the need for Herdbook pedigree recording and or/the veracity of existing pedigree records?
The CWT will have no impact on historical or future DNA parent verified pedigree recording of Herdbook registered Wagyu cattle in Australia. No existing Herdbook pedigree records will be revisited purely as a result of an ‘unexpected’ CWT percentage. The inherent genetic diversity of the Japanese Black, arising from prefectural breeding, is expected to create an ongoing minor deviation in CWT percentages of commercial cattle at a low but commercially acceptable level. These should not be considered as ‘errors’ and have no ramifications for pedigrees.
The lack of sufficient representation of the complete suite of Japanese Black prefectural bloodlines is a constraint in the development of a ‘truly representative’ Japanese Black content test. If all prefectures were sufficiently represented in the reference dataset, it would have enabled a definitive assessment of all Australian Wagyu animals. However, the Australian Wagyu population (and the reference dataset) is skewed towards the Hyogo prefecture and Itozakura bloodlines.
Q. What impact does the CWT have on the AWA pedigree registrations of Herdbook animals with less than 100% CWT Content?
The strict DNA parent verification for the Australian Wagyu Fullblood and Purebred registered animals will ensure ongoing Herdbook accuracy. Genetic variation with registered Australian Fullblood Black Wagyu has been identified as based on differing prefectural herd ancestries. Pedigrees alone continue to define Fullblood status in the AWA Fullblood Wagyu Herdbook.
Q. Are registered Fullblood animals with higher CWT scores “better” than those with lower scores?
No. The lower score Fullblood animals are critically important because they are different. When compared to other beef breeds, the Australian Wagyu population is very closely related. A lower CWT score is an indication that the Fullblood animal is genomically different from the majority of Black Wagyu animals used in the reference dataset. Those registered Fullblood animals with ‘different’ CWT scores are extremely valuable to the Black Australian Wagyu population because they offer the mainstream registered herd the opportunity to extend genetic diversity, enhance selection flexibility and counter inbreeding.
Q. Will CWT- assessed Content Register animals be able to transfer to other AWA registries, such as breeding up grades within the Purebred grade?
Not at this stage. However, given that many are likely to show content considerably over the current <50% Base grade, AWA is examining methods for enabling such transitions.
Q. Will the CWT be useful in differentiating non-pedigree, commercial Fullblood slaughter cattle from registered Purebreds or similarly, high content crossbred cattle?
Where Fullblood Black Wagyu content requires formal Herdbook level of verification, a full DNA parent verification process would remain necessary from an AWA perspective, meaning the animal will have full ancestral and individual breeder traceability. However, individual processors have well-established QA mechanisms in the Fullblood area, which is an established slaughter market segment. AWA believes this segment will continue to grow as high-end consumers demand ever-greater supply chain transparency.
Q. Does AWA expect the CWT will be used in support of litigation in disputes over the Wagyu content of either livestock or retail/food service beef?
No. ‘100% certainty’ of a sample’s relationship to a specified Wagyu category (Fullblood, Purebred or other crossbred) is not a deliverable. The CWT cannot be used as a foundation for litigation on the basis of percentage Wagyu Content. The variation in the results and known genetic variation within the Black Wagyu breed means the use of the CWT should be limited to quality assurance programs.
Q. How does the CWT apply to Fullblood red and Fullblood composite (black X red) cattle?
The reference dataset used to develop the CWT contains very few red Wagyu animals and should not be used to test red Wagyu animals.
Q. What about breeds not represented in the reference dataset?
The CWT isn’t able to calculate accurately the breed percentage of breeds not represented in the reference dataset. Breeds like Brown Swiss, Ayrshire, and Devon don’t have genotypes in the reference dataset but contributed genes to the development of Wagyu in Japan.
Q. Why do we use an Australian and not a Japanese breed content benchmark?
The Japanese Black (Black Wagyu) is a genetically diverse, international breed derived from numerous ancient prefectural herds in Japan with (historically) several breeds contributing to its genetic makeup. The Australian herd does not currently include the full range of Japanese prefectural bloodlines and it is unlikely we will get access to sufficient genetic material to represent the Japanese genetic makeup accurately. The Australian Fullblood herd is a closed sub-population consisting of a subset of the overall Japanese Black genome. Using a test developed using Australian Fullblood sub-population genotypes is the best method for accurately benchmarking the local population.
Q. Does Japan have a similar Wagyu Content Test?
We are not aware of the existence of a similar test in Japan. The Japanese Wagyu industry and JMGA grading system includes a strict ‘whole of life’ separation of Fullblood and crossbred or ‘infused cattle’. There is also no ‘purebred’ category, so the issue of ‘percentage content’ does not arise. At the Fullblood Black level, Japan has unique traceability systems starting at calf birth recording and culminating in government level maintenance of national carcass databases. However, there is no DNA parent verification in Japanese registration. Mechanisms like Japan’s are unavailable in Australia, but we believe with our strict DNA parent verification for Herdbook registered animals, and with the addition of the CWT to our Quality Assurance (QA) toolkit, Australian Wagyu production offers very high levels of QA.