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Argentina could face beef imports

December 14, 2009
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Argentina may soon be forced to import beef to keep its citizens happy, reports the Associated Press. Intense government efforts to keep meat affordable through taxes, export restrictions and price controls have enabled Argentines to eat record amounts of beef this year, but the short-term bonanza has come at a very steep cost. With little or no profit left in meat, ranchers are selling out, slaughtering even the female cows needed to maintain their herds. It takes three years from the moment a calf is born for a cut of beef to reach the supermarket, where the price is roughly 2 dollars per pound. Those low prices have Argentines, already some of the world''s biggest beef consumers, practically gorging on steaks. By August of this year, Argentines devoured more than the average body-weight in beef — nearly 165 pounds, the most in 15 years, according to the Chamber of Commerce of the Argentine Meat Industry. Most Argentines reject the idea of replacing beef with chicken, pork or other meats. Argentina''s meat industry slaughtered about 11 million head of cattle during the first eight months of this year, more than any similar period in the past two decades. Argentina has suffered the worst drought in 70 years in about a third of its farmbelt, forcing some ranchers to sell off cattle with barely enough meat on their bones to slaughter. All this adds up to a bleak future for meat lovers: Once beef production fails to meet demand, either prices will rise significantly or fixed-price meat will suffer widespread shortages, and Argentines will either have to consume less or import their beef. Argentina''s stock is expected to have 3 million fewer calves next year — cattle that would have produced 600,000 tons of meat at slaughter. To maintain meat supplies, the government has applied not only a 15 percent export tax, but other rules such as a requirement that butcher freezers allocate 60 percent of their cuts for domestic distribution.
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