Page last updated at 16:23 GMT, Thursday, 18 February 2010

Argentines urged to boycott beef in battle over prices

By Valeria Perasso
BBC Mundo, Buenos Aires

Cut of meat
Argentines ate on average 64.6kg of beef each in 2009

Argentines have been urged to stop buying beef as consumer groups try to tackle rising prices.

Government figures show the cost of beef is up 7% this year, but consumer activists say the rise is nearer 25%.

Several butchers in Buenos Aires said their sales had slowed since the week-long boycott began on Monday.

Argentines are the world's biggest consumers per capita of beef and giving up on their favoured steaks clearly means a big change in diet.

"We want consumers to act against the increase in prices and the most powerful action is not to buy," said Hector Polino, of the pressure group Association of Free Consumers.

Argentina: 64.6kg
Uruguay: 56.1kg
US: 40.2kg
EU: 16.9kg
Source: US Department of Agriculture

According to official Argentine government statistics, which have frequently been called into question by local market analysts, the price of beef has risen 7% this year.

But the Association of Free Consumers estimates there has been an increase of up to 50% since December.

The basic reason for the rise in prices, analysts say, is that there is not enough supply to satisfy the domestic demand for beef.

The reasons given for the lack of supply include:

  • Decline in cattle numbers. In 2009 total stock was 50m - a drop of two million on 2008
  • Serious droughts in recent years have meant less land is available to graze cattle
  • A subsequent drop in the number of calves being born
  • A sharp increase in demand which analysts attribute to improved purchasing power by the poorest Argentine consumers who have access to government assistance programmes

Perhaps the biggest factor, farmers say, is that thousands of hectares have been switched to soy production which is more profitable.

'Sexy pork'

The Argentine government is currently trying to reach an agreement with producers to set maximum prices for the most popular beef cuts in the markets.

But Argentine President Cristina Fernandez is also urging people to eat less beef and more chicken or pork, employing some perhaps unusual arguments.

"Pork improves your sexual activity and it is much more gratifying to have pork in a barbecue than to take Viagra," she said recently.

This is not the first time that consumer groups have called for a boycott in Argentina.

In 2008, a similar campaign took place amid an abrupt rise in the price of tomatoes, which increased threefold in a matter of days.

Tomato prices went back to their previous levels after protests from angry consumers, but there is scepticism that this time around a boycott will achieve the same result.

Many farmers believe that it will take five years for cattle production to get back to a level to cope with the demand of Argentine consumers.

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