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Islanders hope to create Japanese herd for specialty beef market

SUMMERSIDE, P.E.I. -- Interest is building between a Tokyo-based company and P.E.I. over striking a deal to produce Island beef products to market in Japan.

SUMMERSIDE, P.E.I. -- Interest is building between a Tokyo-based company and P.E.I. over striking a deal to produce Island beef products to market in Japan.

Representatives from Maruha Nichiro Seafoods Inc. were back on the Island late last week visiting farms and holding discussions with government and other agencies around the pos-sibility of a partnership to develop a branded Island product.

P.E.I.'s beef industry is preparing to conduct extensive trials into raising and supplying Japan with this new Island beef.

Masatoshi Shibata says the potential is strong for long-term prospects.

The manager of a large food importer said the advantage of Prince Edward Island is that the Japanese people already know the Island as the home of "Anne of Green Gables."

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The intention is to develop Wagyu beef for the high-end Japanese market. Like Angus or Simmental, Waygu is a breed of cattle.

"We're at ground zero right now," says Rinnie Bradley of the P.E.I. Cattlemen's Associa-tion. "But if everything goes well, this could be a very big marketplace."

Beef is only eaten in small portions in Japan and consumers there prefer high fat and ex-treme tenderness. That requires a special breed of animal.

P.E.I. officials want to acquire Wagyu genetics to begin a herd on the Island.

"We have a number of producers interested in this trial," said Bradley. "And it could be-come quite a little niche market. If they like what we produce, demand could easily outstrip supply."

The current $27-million P.E.I. beef industry sells mostly to the low-priced commodity mar-kets.

Wagyu beef imported to Japan is reared in California and Australia as well as Ontario and Alberta.

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