Argentina, traditionally one of the world's biggest meat-eating countries--and by meat they invariably mean beefsteak--is learning to live without beef.
Argentina, traditionally one of the world's biggest meat-eating countries--and by meat they invariably mean beefsteak--is learning to live without beef. The world boom in demand for succulent steaks, juicy joints and roasts of the red meat has sent prices soaring, as housewives in many countries know. Argentine food shoppers have found that beef prices have risen faster and higher than practically any other foodstuffs.
In the year to April, 1972 the price of beef on the Argentine national market rose by more than 60 per cent -- with some of the choicer cuts leaping up to 82 per cent. In the year to March, 1973 beef prices rose by more than 70 per cent -- and then, in March alone, prices shot up by almost half the total increase registered in the entire previous year; an incredible 34.9 per cent!
Only potatoes outstripped beef price rises. Potatoes zoomed upwards by a phenomenal 477 per cent!
Well, the Argentine beefeater is having to choose other foods to clamp his teeth on. Most cannot afford to buy what they call "bife". Government measures last year forbade the sale of beef to the public on alternate weeks. President Lanusse's Government introduced the beefless week measure in an attempt to make more of the meat available for export. Tax concessions were also granted in an effort to raise export figures and give the country a greater share of the valuable world market.
Opinion was divided on this measure and its effectiveness. But exports did increase. In 1972 beef earned Argentina 545 million dollars (approximately 216 millions sterling) and, with increasing prices it is hoped that this her meat will earn the country 645 dollars (approximately 260 millions sterling). Beef is undoubtedly the country's most valuable single export, with 708,000 tons sent abroad last year. Only twice in the past 20-years have beef exports topped the 700,000 ton mark.
Now, with plenty of beefless weeks behind them, the ordinary man-in-the-street is learning to foresaks a steak and try less popular (less popular in the Argentine) types and cuts of meat, such as mutton, pork, goat meat, fish and the very cheapest pieces of beef.
However, there is a gleam of hope for Argentine meat eaters. In the past few day the Government has taken new measures in an attempt to bring beef prices down for the domestic market. It has introduced a new tax and other measures which hopefully will have the desired effect, and also make beef buying easier for domestic consumers -- if they have the money. But it will be several weeks before the effectiveness or otherwise of these steps can be seen.
Meanwhile, the ban on beef sales in restaurants and hotels has been extended from alternative weeks to a two-week period.
A major factor in the zooming prices has been the cash brought by beef on the hoof in markets in Buenos Aires. Live cattle prices have continued to rise rapidly. This has brought a spate of cattle rustling, prompting the authorities to stiffen the penalties for the crime. Bail is also being refused to anyone awaiting trial on rustling charges.
Meantime, the battle for beef continues on the kitchen range, while on the Pampas some 52 million cattle munch contentedly and are worth their weight in gold.