Argentina, a country that besides football and good wine evokes high quality meat, has hit some bumps on the road. The country, traditionally very strong in beef export was surpassed by all the other countries of Mercosur, thus crowning the negative trend that began in 2006.
In 2005, Argentina exported 771,000 tonnes of beef, making it the third largest exporter of beef products in the world. As of last year, it had fallen down eight spots.
Some blame the government for intervening in the export market and allegedly decreasing the profitability of cattle breeding. “Uruguay, Paraguay and México, all countries with no tradition in beef exporting are better than us. And moreover, around 1,600 workers got sacked because of this!” stated Luis Etchevehere, the president of the Sociedad Rural Argentina (SRA).
Argentine steaks are not just juicy, tasty, and delicious. They mean much more, especially to people of this country. So we hit the streets of Buenos Aires to find out what porteños think about the drastic drop of beef export and to ask what the Argentine meat industry means to them.
Our meat industry is successful, but what we should do is to try and keep the Argentine tradition, such as “asado”, more for ourselves and not to export it so much. Our cultural and other customs should stay in this country, even though I kind of understand how important it is to experience food and dishes from abroad. Such excellent beef as we have here in Argentina, should be treated like a treasure, because we are talking about the most delicious thing we own, despite the fact that I eat beef only once a week. I prefer fish and fruit, because I am trying to eat healthier. And finally, I cannot judge about other countries, since I am not familiar with their export products, but we should be more careful with ours.
Argentine beef export is droping, because of our president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, who wants to nationalise everything. And this is not working out. A lot of foreign companies who were producing here in Argentina, are leaving and no others are coming in. Unemployment rate is growing fast, currently I am unemployed too, and only because of her policies. Inflation is another big problem and everything is just getting worse. But despite all of that, we have to continue with our beef exports, like we have been doing so far, since this means a huge income for the entire country and economic growth of our nation. As a consequence of everything I mentioned, beef is becoming more and more expensive and it is impossible that an average family of five or six members, could afford red meat more than two or three times a week. Even I do not eat beef so often, because it is expensive. When we go to the supermarket, our shopping cart can’t be filled even with the basic goods, let alone something more. Not with this current wages. Unless you are a successful businessman or somehow connected to Cristina’s government.
Argentina consumes huge amonuts of beef. But not me. I eat meat, but I am not a big consumer. The main problem we have is that thousands of acres of our fertile soil is now being used to produce soy. And a lot of the cattle disappeared. It is much more wise to grow soybeans than to have 500 cows in your stable. Besides, there are many more things in this country I am not fond of, but they do not depend on me or other regular people. Big companies and individuals who own large plantations, choose soybean export because it brings a lot more money than exporting red meat. Our most important partner in this sense is China and if you do business with only one person or company there, you earn more than you would with beef. I am not worried about this whole situation of drastic reduction in beef exports, what concerns me most is the damage soy is causing to our soil. After growing soybean, the ground needs a long time to recover. So, when the ‘soy era’ passes, because it will eventually, like everything does, I do not know how much time our soil will need to fully recover. Anyways, you have to adapt to consumers’ demands and if they require soy, we should give it to them. When Argentina was one of the leading exporters of beef, we were on top only because of the world market’s demands.
Me and my family, we eat a lot of meat, like in my opinion the majority of Argentines does. We are simply ‘a country of red meat’. It is a fact that all kinds of costs – transportation, commercial, intermediary, etc. – are rising, but I think that beef should more affordable for us Argentines. I understand that it is more profitable to export the high quality meat, rather than just leave it on domestic market, despite its magnitude. All in all, beef exports are dropping because of higher operative costs. World economic crisis is having a huge impact on meat prices everywhere. Beef is still our tradition, we do not enjoy red meat just on Sundays, even during the week we eat loads of beef. Our situation with beef exports is just as concerning as food related questions anywhere in the world. And nutrition issues are a big deal, some are even talking about a “world food crisis”. Definitely, I am worried.
Everything changed with the soybean, but I do not see our future in exporting soy. It is ruining our quality soil. We used to be the most important exporters of beef, so we should quickly start working on getting this reputation back. And put Argentina in the top spot, where it used to be. This sector has been very important, it still is, it brings tonnes of money and last but not least, to us it means a lot. But unfortunately, at the moment people are more focused on something else – the soybean, instead of beef, a thing of such a high national importance. As for me, I prefer vegetables and pasta. I do not eat a lot of beef, since it is so expensive. I buy only the cheapest parts.