The name Wagyu is used to describe Japanese beef cattle, “Wa” means Japanese and “Gyu” means cattle. The beef cattle breeds that are referred to when speaking of Wagyu are the Japanese Black (Kuroge Washu), Japanese Brown/Red (Akage Washu or “Akaushi”), Japanese Short horn (Nihon Tankaku Washu) and Japanese Polled (Mukaku Washu).
The first exports were done in 1976 by Morris Whitney to the USA. He imported 2 Black bulls (Mazda & Mt Fuji) and 2 Red Bulls (Judo & Rueshow). In 1989 the Australia Wagyu Association is the first Wagyu Association that is formed outside of Japan. Australia received its first embryos via the USA in 1990-1991. In 1990 The American Wagyu Association was formed in Texas. The Manett Group (later known as World K’s) imported Canadas first 2 Black Bulls (Haruki II and Michifuku) and 3 Black Heifers (Okutani, Rikitani and Suzutani) in 1993 from Japan.
In 1997 Japan declared Wagyu a national treasure. As a national treasure it became illegal to export live cattle and genetic material from Japan. Before the ban on Wagyu exports from Japan a total 167 Black Cattle and 16 Red Cattle were exported from Japan. It is from the 183 cattle imported from Japan that the global population of Wagyu was bred and imported to various other countries.
The Wagyu breed was established in New Zealand in the early 1990’s with Purebred embryos imported from Australia and the New Zealand Wagyu Breeders Association, Inc. was established on the 11th of May, 1992. During the mid to late 1990’s through to the early 2000’s a small number of Fullblood embryos and semen from the US and Australia were imported. Since 2015 there has been a marked increase in Fullblood genetics being imported from the established Australian herds. There are approximately 500 Fullblood and 3000 Purebred Wagyu in New Zealand. The majority of commercial animals are Dairy/Wagyu First Cross animals (notably from the Firstlight and Black Origin programs).New Zealand is known for its ability to grow grass and finish cattle in a pastoral system. The focus of the NZWBA is to support and encourage the development of the Wagyu breed and a predominantly grass finished Wagyu product for the local and international market.
In 1999 South Africa imported its first embryos from the USA.
The first Wagyu embryos were imported to the UK in 2003 and Germany in 2004 from the USA. German Wagyu Association founded in 2008. The South African Wagyu Society and the British Wagyu Breeders Association were established in 2014. In 2017 the first Wagyu cattle were imported to Namibia from South Africa. In the same year the Namibian Wagyu Society was established. Currently there are 36 countries that are known to have Wagyu cattle outside of Japan. From these countries 7 associations have come together to form the World Wagyu Council.