Argentine cattle are going American. “Instead of roaming freely and eating to their hearts’ content, a growing number of Argentine cattle are spending a third of their lives in U.S.-style feedlots,” writes Juan Forero of the Washington Post. “There, crammed in muddy corrals, they are pumped with antibiotics and fed mounds of protein-rich grain, which fattens them up fast but hardly conjures up the romantic image of the Argentine cowboy, the iconic gaucho, lassoing cattle on the high plains.”
Pasture land for cattle is being turned over to corn, wheat and soy bean. And this is not helping the worldwide reputation for Argentine beef. “There’s a big difference between grass-fed beef and feedlot beef,” said Tomas Leclercq, who manages about 250 head of cattle for a Buenos Aires businessman and eats meat daily. “Beef raised on the plains is better, but there is less and less of it because the land is going for agriculture, so the feedlots are multiplying.” Now a third of the 15 million animals slaughtered each year will come from feedlots — three times as many as in 2001.
Farmers in that South American country are switching from beef to crops because crops pay better now. Price controls have kept beef prices low. Crop subsidies make corn more affordable for the feed lots. A devalued currency makes it profitable to export cash crops.