Darwin’s Theory and Modern Agricultural Practices

How can Darwin’s evolutionary theory influence the agriculture field in modern times?

In 1991, Japan finally agreed to allow the import of foreign beef. Since Japan mostly consists of cities, rice fields, or mountains, it is not one of the best places to raise cattle. So Japanese beef would inherently be at a disadvantage: the cost of land alone in Japan means that importing beef from South America, the United States, or Australia is way cheaper than beef from a local Japanese cow.

So instead of competing on price, Japanese beef producers competed on quality, taking the best and most unique qualities of Japanese cattle and breeding it to perfection, resulting in wagyu (“Japanese cattle”). Specifically, there are four breeds of wagyu, Black, Polled, B, brown, and Shorthorn. Their particular genetics means that it has more marbling than beef from the rest of the world, and is also rising on mono-unsaturated fats such as omega-3 and omega-6, giving it a rich, sweet, butt flavor and softer and very tender texture. So in short, recognizing that Japan could never compete with price or quantity, they competed on quality and bred some of the finest cattle in the world.

“But how is breeding connected to Darwin’s theory of evolution?” I hear you ask.

The first answer is that the only difference between breeding and the wild is who does the selection. In breeding, it is artificial selection done by humans. “Survival” simply means having traits that humans like – in this case, this rich, sweet, buttery flavor and soft texture. The cathartic produce that quality (or rather, their parents – wagyu cattle is often castrated or neutered to fatter meat) get to breed and produce a new generation.

In the wild, selection is done by, well, everything else: illness, predators, other cows, weather, whatever. And surviving all that into adulthood means you get to breed and produce a new generation.

So the selection criteria are different, but everything else is the same.

The other answer is that Japan has isolated itself for quite some time. From the Tokugawa shogunate to the Meiji restoration, Japan was mostly closed off to the world outside. Even after the Meiji restoration, Japan has been selective in its import of foreign stuff, and that included beef up until 1991.

That means in turn that Japanese wrestle was also isolated and evolved slightly down a different path for some time, resulting in unique traits for Japanese cattle – such as the higher amount of intra-muscular fat and unsaturated fat. It is these traits which were then bred to perfection to become wagyu. And this evolution has nothing to do with artificial selection – it was simply a neutral mutation that didn’t do anything.

Until 1991, Japan started to import foreign beef. Suddenly that mutation became a huge advantage for wagyu cattle. Wagyu is now a phenomenon, and the world is trying to catch up with this delicious beef and raise it outside Japan, either as a pure breed but mostly as a crossbreed.

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