food / travel

Why Argentina's Famous Beef Has Gotten So Fatty

Argentine laws set a minimum weight for slaughtered cattle, forcing farmers to produce 'fattened' beef, but meat eaters are not so keen.

Meat handing in an Argentinian slaughter house
Meat handing in an Argentinian slaughter house
Lucas Villamil

BUENOS AIRES Few things are as easy to spot for an Argentinian as a cut of meat with excess fat on it. We are experts at looking for the right pieces, not too fatty nor too lean, and expect the butcher to work magic with his (or her) knife, to ensure that later on the cook gets a round of applause. Paradoxically, current policies on slaughter conspire against the perfect cut, generating excess fat on beef and undermining profitability in the production chain.

Initially, "animals make more meat than fat," says Gustavo Sueldo, a consultant to the feedlot business, but at the end, "the proportion is inverse and for every added kilogram, 70% is fat. There are a lot of females today that would be slaughtered at 270 kilograms, but producers are being forced to reach 310 kilograms, which raises costs and adds a lot of fat." Customers, he says, respond negatively to this excess fat, concentrated between the meat and rib, and butchers are asked to remove it from cuts.


Cattle cow at auction in Buenos Aires — Photo: Eva Fisher/DPA/Zuma

The reason for this is a law in force since 2018 which requires a minimum weight of 300 kilograms before any cattle is sent for slaughter. The norm does not however differentiate between male and female, which have different rates of fattiness. "Females by nature, put on fat before males do, have an inferior growth rate and with the same weight gain, a male makes more meat than a female. It is very difficult for some females to reach this weight," Sueldo says.

The slaughter weight is a subject of debate now throughout the meat production chain. The idea behind it is to enhance production, maximizing exports to meet growing demand, without neglecting the important domestic market. But producers say more fundamental production stimuli are needed.

Customers respond negatively to this excess fat.

"We all want to put more kilos onto the animal," says Sueldo, "but this cannot be done by losing money. The structure of production and sales must change to justify adding kilos." He adds that Argentina does not have enough large-scale rearing fields, forcing feedlots to buy leaner animals and boost their weight on site and suggests an alternative option when it coms to exports: "Exports of cattle, which are an asset, have grown, so what we need is to export more heifers, which are an exchange good. The business has to be making more heifers. We have to work on giving Argentina access to those markets that pay more for the meat of young bulls. For that we need better traceability systems, certifications and we need trade deals."

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Why This Sudan Coup Is Different

The military has seized control in one of Africa's largest countries, which until recently had made significant progress towards transitioning to democracy after years of strongman rule. But the people, and international community, may not be willing to turn back.

Smoke rises Monday over the Sudanese capital of Khartoum

Xinhua via ZUMA
David E. Kiwuwa

This week the head of Sudan's Sovereign Council, General Abdel Fattah El Burhan, declared the dissolution of the transitional council, which has been in place since the overthrow of former president Omar el-Bashir in 2019. He also disbanded all the structures that had been set up as part of the transitional roadmap, and decreed a state of emergency.

In essence, he staged a palace coup against the transitional authority he chaired.

The general's actions, which included the arrest of Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, are a culmination of a long period of tension between the civilian and military wings of the council.

A popular uprising may be inevitable

The tensions were punctuated by an alleged attempted coup only weeks earlier. The days leading to the palace coup were marked by street protests for and against the military. Does this mark the end of the transition as envisaged by the protest movement?

Their ability to confront counter revolutionary forces cannot be underestimated.

The popular uprising against Bashir's government was led by the Sudan Professional Association. It ushered in the political transitional union of civilians and the military establishment. The interim arrangement was to lead to a return to civilian rule.

But this cohabitation was tenuous from the start, given the oversized role of the military in the transition. Moreover, the military appeared to be reluctant to see the civilian leadership as an equal partner in shepherding through the transition.

Nevertheless, until recently there had been progress towards creating the institutional architecture for the transition. Despite the challenges and notable tension between the signatories to the accord, it was never evident that the dysfunction was so great as to herald the collapse of the transitional authority.

For now, the transition might be disrupted and in fact temporarily upended. But the lesson from Sudan is never to count the masses out of the equation. Their ability to mobilize and confront counter revolutionary forces cannot be underestimated.

Power sharing

The transitional pact itself had been anchored by eight arduously negotiated protocols. These included regional autonomy, integration of the national army, revenue sharing and repatriation of internal refugees. There was also an agreement to share out positions in national political institutions, such as the legislative and executive branch.

Progress towards these goals was at different stages of implementation. More substantive progress was expected to follow after the end of the transition. This was due in 2022 when the chair of the sovereignty council handed over to a civilian leader. This military intervention is clearly self-serving and an opportunistic power grab.

A promised to civilian rule in July 2023 through national elections.

In November, the rotational chairmanship of the transitional council was to be passed from the military to the civilian wing of the council. That meant the military would cede strong leverage to the civilians. Instead, with the coup afoot, Burhan has announced both a dissolution of the council as well as the dismissal of provincial governors. He has unilaterally promised return to civilian rule in July 2023 through national elections.

Prior to this, the military had been systematically challenging the pre-eminence of the civilian authority. It undermined them and publicly berated them for governmental failures and weaknesses. For the last few months there has been a deliberate attempt to sharply criticize the civilian council as riddled with divisions, incompetent and undermining state stability.

File photo shows Sudan's Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok in August 2020

Mohamed Khidir/Xinhua via ZUMA

Generals in suits

Since the revolution against Bashir's government, the military have fancied themselves as generals in suits. They have continued to wield enough power to almost run a parallel government in tension with the prime minister. This was evident when the military continued to have the say on security and foreign affairs.

For their part, civilian officials concentrated on rejuvenating the economy and mobilizing international support for the transitional council.

This didn't stop the military from accusing the civilian leadership of failing to resuscitate the country's ailing economy. True, the economy has continued to struggle from high inflation, low industrial output and dwindling foreign direct investment. As in all economies, conditions have been exacerbated by the effects of COVID-19.

Sudan's weakened economy is, however, not sufficient reason for the military intervention. Clearly this is merely an excuse.

Demands of the revolution

The success or failure of this coup will rest on a number of factors.

First is the ability of the military to use force. This includes potential violent confrontation with the counter-coup forces. This will dictate the capacity of the military to change the terms of the transition.

Second is whether the military can harness popular public support in the same way that the Guinean or Egyptian militaries did. This appears to be a tall order, given that popular support appears to be far less forthcoming.

The international community's appetite for military coups is wearing thin.

Third, the ability of the Sudanese masses to mobilize against military authorities cannot be overlooked. Massive nationwide street protests and defiance campaigns underpinned by underground organizational capabilities brought down governments in 1964, 1985 and 2019. They could once again present a stern test to the military.

Finally, the international community's appetite for military coups is wearing thin. The ability of the military to overcome pressure from regional and international actors to return to the status quo could be decisive, given the international support needed to prop up the crippled economy.

The Sudanese population may have been growing frustrated with its civilian authority's ability to deliver on the demands of the revolution. But it is also true that another coup to reinstate military rule is not something the protesters believe would address the challenges they were facing.

Sudan has needed and will require compromise and principled political goodwill to realise a difficult transition. This will entail setbacks but undoubtedly military intervention in whatever guise is monumentally counterproductive to the aspirations of the protest movement.


David E. Kiwuwa is Associate Professor of International Studies at University of Nottingham

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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