Argentina's Beef Production Plummets As Fish Exports Boom

Argentina has long been renowned for its excellent and plentiful beef. The second hit for the Google query "best beef country in the world" is the Wikipedia entry for Argentine beef. But thanks to recent governmental restrictions, Argentina's place as the world's premier cattle ranch is now in danger.

In 2006, the Argentine government restricted beef exports in hopes of making beef more affordable for its domestic poor. But the devisers of the restrictions didn't account for the way Argentine beef exports actually work. Often, beef producers would ship luxury cuts abroad, at high margins, and sell gristly but tasty cuts, like skirt steak, to Argentines. So when the government restricted exports, it cut ranchers' profits without changing domestic prices appreciably.

The restrictions have been ruinous for the industry. Argentine fish exports, once unheard-of, have overtaken beef exports. Argentina lost its place as the world's biggest per-capita beef consumers to Uruguayans. And perhaps most embarrassingly, tiny South American nation Paraguay exported more beef than Argentina in 2010.

What, you may ask, is Argentina doing with all the land it once dedicated to cattle ranching? Planting soybeans. Good news for vegans, bad news for cultural anthropologists.