Argentina, land of tender sirloin and cheating in soccer and then bragging about it, has recently given up its title of Biggest Beef Eater in the World.
In 2012, each person in the country consumed 129 pounds of beef, a far cry from Argentina's 1956 peak of 222 pounds per person, but way above the 57.5 pounds of beef eaten per capita in the U.S. Yet, over the past decade, Argentina has fallen from its perch, says The New York Times. Now its No. 2 in beef consumption, behind neighboring Uruguay. To make matters worse for proud beef-loving Argentines, the country has also fallen to 11th place in the world for beef exports.
Why the slide? In 2006, when economic woes coupled with high global demand sent beef prices soaring, the late President Nestor Kirchner instituted a 180-day ban on beef exports and rose export taxes to 15 percent, from 5 percent, to try to drive down domestic prices. The measures were temporary, but when markets reopened, confidence remained low, and exports continued to fall. From 2006 to 2011 they dropped 45 percent.
Under Argentina's current president, Cristina Kirchner (Nestor's wife), the beef industry has continued to struggle. For every 2.5 tons of beef exported, farmers must sell one in Argentina at 50 percent of the price, a consultant for the meat industry told Merco Press. So beef earnings have slipped, and more and more farmers are using their fields to farm soybeans, which they can export — at greater profits — to China for livestock feed.
With Argentina on the down slope, which nation will be named the new "king of beef"? A few in the running:
Brazil is set to produce 9.5 million tons of beef this year, compared to Argentina's 2.8 million. And 7.96 million of those tons will be consumed domestically. The U.S.'s Foreign Agricultural Service says of Brazil: "Despite a shift of some pasture to soybeans and corn during the current season, herd expansion is bolstered by government support, genetic improvements, better pasture management, sustained cattle prices, excellent pasture conditions, greater supplies of slaughter cattle, and strong international demand."
Though cows are considered sacred in Hinduism — India's most popular religion — beef exports and consumption in the country have increased by 44 percent in just four years. The country is undergoing a "pink revolution" as the industry is modernizing its processing plants and some Indians are developing a taste for the meat. In just four years, India has grown into the top beef exporter in the world, according to the USDA, with most of its product going to countries in the Middle East and Southeast Asia. In 2012, India exported about 1.5 million metric tons of beef.
On a global scale, the tiny country of Uruguay is no match for countries like Brazil and India. But on a per-capita basis, its beef industry is crushing it. First, there are about four beef cows for every person in the country. By comparison, in India there are close to four people for every cow. And nearly 80 percent of Uruguay's beef is exported, accounting for 6 percent of the country's GDP. The U.S. made $5.5 billion in beef exports in 2012, while its GDP is almost $15 trillion — paltry in comparison. Uruguayans also eat more beef per person than any other country — 132 pounds per year.