One Texas Ranch Has Beef with How the USDA Grades Wagyu

Ryan Cade doesn’t like the USDA’s generous definition of the term Wagyu. “There are a lot of us in the Wagyu world that would like to see the standards tightened,” he said. Cade founded R-C Ranch with his friend Blake Robertson in 2010. They purchased ten heifers and cows from Triangle B Ranch in Oklahoma, and through in vitro fertilization from Wagyu bulls, started sending full-blood Wagyu beef to market in 2013. They’ve since done some crossbreeding with Angus cattle, but if it has an R-C Ranch label, then the animal had 75 percent or higher Wagyu bloodlines. The current USDA specifications allow for animals as low as 46.875 percent to be labeled as Wagyu beef.

There is currently no quality or marbling score required for retail beef to get a Wagyu label. Maybe you’ve heard of the Certified Angus Beef (CAB) brand, which doesn’t even require the cattle to be genetically Angus (their hides must be over half black in color). For that reason, CAB is sometimes used as a punchline, but there are certain quality requirements including yield grade and a minimum marbling score (among others) to be considered part of the CAB program. There is no equivalent certification for Wagyu beef.

That’s how you end up with a fast-food chain like Arby’s being able to serve Wagyu cheeseburgers (which are nearly half Angus beef) for around $6 each. Cade tried one of those burgers when they were still on the menu. “Curiosity drove me there,” he said, and he had mixed feelings about seeing that Wagyu label on the glowing drive-through menu. “From a brand-awareness standpoint, I think it’s kinda cool,” he said. It shows an awareness from the public that the Wagyu name has value, or else Arby’s wouldn’t be using it to sell burgers. He’s just hoping the Arby’s consumer won’t use that burger experience to judge all Wagyu beef.

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