REPORTS ON ARGENTINIAN BEEF CALLED OVERBLOWN

CHICAGO -- Reports that Argentinian beef will soon make an appearance in U.S. retailer meat cases have been greatly exaggerated.So said an official for the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, based here.The United States has long had a ban on beef from Argentina due to the high incidence of cattle diseases in that country, but new regulations proposed by the United States Department of Agriculture

CHICAGO -- Reports that Argentinian beef will soon make an appearance in U.S. retailer meat cases have been greatly exaggerated.

So said an official for the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, based here.

The United States has long had a ban on beef from Argentina due to the high incidence of cattle diseases in that country, but new regulations proposed by the United States Department of Agriculture would allow Argentinian beef to be imported under certain conditions. A recent article in the Washington Post summed up the prospects of Argentinian beef in the United States by saying that consumers might be able to find roasts of Argentinian origin for Christmas dinner this year. NCBA's Jerry Kelly, assistant beef retail manager, told SN this was highly unlikely.

"Most of what they would import is older grass-fed cattle that would be primarily used in the grinding process for hamburgers or ground product," he said.

Although the Post article contained statements such as "soon Americans could be savoring boneless sirloin strips from the high-quality rangelands of the Argentine pampas," Kelly calls this misleading.

"We're not talking about steaks -- it's more along the lines of the Australian bull meat and shank meat used in the grinding process," he said.

Kelly said that, according to the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, there is a limit on the amount of beef the United States can import from Argentina and Uruguay -- a total of 20,000 metric tons per year. And there are further limits to the amount that will find its way into the United States.

"The catch is that, in both regions, anything they export to the United States has to be certified free of hoof and mouth disease. Uruguay has been certified but in Argentina only certain regions are."

But there are other reasons that Kelly doesn't think retailers will be dealing with any significant amount of Argentinian beef.

"With the situation we're facing domestically, there's a lot of domestic beef around, some of the prices are at all time lows, and so I don't see the economic advantage of either one of these countries exporting to the United States at this time.

"I've visited probably 40 retailers in the past few months," he added, "and none of them are even thinking about Argentine beef."