Thursday, May 5, 2011

Beef for everyone

The headline of last Thursday’s Clarín was accompanied by a less than flattering snap of a baseball capped Cristina Kirchner at the launch of her plan to provide cheap beef for everyone in what was once the beef epicentre of the planet.

Only one problem – her Carne para Todos (Beef for Everyone) plan will only cover about 0.15% of daily consumption. More like beef for a few said Clarín, the national newspaper with a long standing anti Kirchner reputation.

Cristina’s grand scheme will see a massive total of five refrigerated vans driving round the city selling 13 different cuts of beef at prices fixed by the controversial Secretary of Commerce Guillermo Moreno. The vans will distribute a total of 10,000 kilos of beef, which as Clarín highlighted, is a miniscule amount when one considers 6.6 million kilos of beef are sold each day in Argentina.

‘The only people to benefit will be a select group of businessmen considered favourites of Guillermo Moreno,’ Clarín suggested.

Moreno, who has chosen a price of $10.50 per kilo for asado for example (a figure that is at least half but more like a third of the true market value), will take the beef from what is known as la barata. That is the beef which some producers, on the orders of the said Secretary of Commerce, already sell each week to certain supermarkets at a reduced price of $9.50 per kilo; a price which Clarín claims is then often used to manipulate Indec’s estimations when the office of national statistics calculates the county’s official inflation.  

Whether the plan turns out to be successful or not, its necessity reflects the ever increasing beef prices in Argentina. The price of asado (the cut most commonly used for barbeques) has risen from $13.20 a kilo in 2008 to $35 in 2011; and has even doubled its US dollar price.

Beef prices on the rise since 2003
This is due to decreased supply.

‘It seems like a joke to announce a beef for everyone programme in a country where there are consistently less and less cows,’ wrote Clarín’s Editor Ricardo Roa. ‘The country’s stock’ he goes on to say ‘has gone down by 10 million between 2006 and 2010 and Argentina has been overtaken by its neighbours in beef exports.’

Ricardo Roa is right. Argentina can no longer claim the title as the world’s leading suppliers of beef. In fact in 2010 it was reported that even tiny Paraguay exported more beef than Argentina, selling a total of US$1.05 billion on international markets; while due to government restrictions Argentina saw its exports fall by 52.7% compared with 2009.

Nor can Argentines continue to pull their shoulders back with pride over their long standing reputation as the world’s number one consumers of red meat. Despite currently exporting only one out of every ten kilos of beef, domestic consumption has gone down from 60 kilos per capita per annum to a mere 55 kilos. Whereas over the River Plate, Uruguayans have been steadily upping their beef intake. Today's figures show that each person there devours on average 58.2 kilos per year, meaning they now top the world’s beef eating table ahead of other beef munching nations like the USA (43 kilos per capita), Australia (39) and Brazil (36).

Despite Argentina's reduced intake, Cristina’s Beef for Everyone plan is still minute in scale and it is highly unlikely to reverse the current downward trend. Most commentators argue that the only way to do that is for the government to remove its restrictions on farmers, which has seen overall beef production in Argentina plummet; 20.7% between 2009 and 2010 alone. 

Of course the likelihood of the government choosing to backtrack and lose face, even when in the national interest, is low. The Beef for Everyone plan may be a useful gimmick but predictions suggest Argentine production and consumption will continue to fall. If that turns out to be the case then who knows what's possible; perhaps the once very foreign idea of vegetarianism, a phenomenon virtually unheard of here in times past, might just catch on as Argentines replace their steaks for a lump of tofu and their grilled small intestines for some bean curd.   


  1. Over the river in Uruguay there are 12 millions heads of cattle grazing their pasture. The number of cows in Paraguay is, as you pointed out, rapidly increasing. While Carne para Todos is a gimmick in Argentina, beef is now a serious business in Uruguay. With a population of barely 3 million, there are at any one time close to 100,000 daily visitors (mostly Brazilians) in that country sampling their parrillas, which they have promoted to be better than that of Argentina. In Paraguay, the situation is slightly different; the Paraguayos are eating more beef themselves.

    One curious fact about the Argentines though. They now eat more bean curd than the Europeans. South America's second biggest Tofu factory is now in Buenos Aires - Lam (in Vienna Airport)

  2. Sampling a parilla at el mercado del puerto in Montevideo indeed testifies to the quality of Uruguay's product.
    Interesting facts about tofu and bean curd.
    I wonder how the beef is in Vienna.