Why Argentine Steaks Are Getting Harder to Find

Fancy a juicy, medium-rare Argentine steak? Me too, but we’d be lucky to get one.

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Marcos Brindicci / REUTERS

A chef prepares beef at a grill post in Buenos Aires on Jan. 16, 2008.

Fancy a juicy, medium-rare Argentine steak? Me too, but chances are neither of us will get to enjoy one unless we visit the South American country.

It is no secret that Argentines love their beef. The average tango-dancing ‘muchacho’ consumes 134 pounds (about 61 kg) of cow meat every year — the second highest in the world — and its quality is legendary. “It’s a very traditional meal here in Argentina,” one shopper told CCTV. “Most Sundays I eat barbequed meat with my family.”

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Yet the industry is largely domestic. Only 7% of the nation’s beef is exported, so sampling a spoon-tender Argentine filet mignon will most likely entail a costly flight. This was not always the case. In 2005, the country was the world’s third largest beef exporter with one quarter of total production — amounting to some 882,000 tons — leaving its shores for dinner tables abroad, according to Quartz.

The change came about when former President Nelson Kirchner — husband to incumbent Christina — raised export taxes from five to 15% in order to address rocketing meat prices at home. This decimated the export industry, much to the chagrin of the nation’s farmers. Uruguay and Paraguay have now stolen a march on their southern neighbor as Argentina drops to only 10th in the beef exporter rankings. Critics argue that strict export restrictions have made beef farming unsustainable, and as a result the number of cows in Argentina has dropped from 57 million last year to just 48 million today.

So while swaggering gauchos herding cattle over the wide pampas is quintessential to the South American nation’s identity, their golden era is fading fast.

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