Japan has decided to protect Japanese beef as its intellectual property by patenting the Japanese cow genes and monitoring semen stock distribution with bar-codes. The agriculture ministry says that it found there is no international law to prohibit the stock from flowing out to foreign countries for hybridization and reverse import.

The ministry reported that during 1997 and 1998, 128 pure Japanese cows and 13 thousand vials of sperm that ranchers usually use for artificial hybridization, were imported to the United States.

Concerns emerged after Japan discovered that some of the exports were brought to Australia, where ranchers cross-bred the Japanese stock with Australian livestock and exported the calves back to Japan.

The ministry announced that it will aim to decode cow genes to find particular genes that produce Japanese beef's savory aroma and taste. The beef fetches high prices and is highly acclaimed in various countries.

Japan seeks to identify Japanese cows by genes in its attempt to recognize and protect Japanese beef as a treasure, the ministry said in a statement.

The ministry added that it will gather research entities and researchers from around the country to work together. It adds that it will make the patent available only to the Japanese livestock industry and researchers.