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FARMING ABROAD: Argentina - Raising Chickens for Beef Eaters

November 6, 1987

CAPILLA DEL SENOR, Argentina (AP) _ Antonio Schrader has given up teaching mathematics to raise chickens for Argentines, who eat more beef than anyone in the world.

″The chicken is a relatively new thing in Argentina,″ the Danish-born Schrader said. ″But it has gone quite well. I sell all I produce, so it looks like I’ll make about $2,000 a month raising these birds.″

He quit his high school job last year to raise chickens here in Capilla Del Senor, a 200-year-old village in a provincial chicken-producing zone 50 miles northwest of Buenos Aires.

Now he and two friends own an 8.6-acre chicken farm. Two low 30-by-300-foot sheds shelter 22,000 chickens. Another shed is under construction.

Cargill, a giant agribusiness concern, has a contract with Schrader that provides baby chicks from Brazil, along with chicken feed and medical care. After 55 days, Cargill buys the fattened birds from Schrader.

Whether Schrader’s success will last is uncertain because of the continual difficulty the government has persuading Argentines to change their beef- eating habits in favor of chicken, pork or fish, which they consider inferior.

Beef is cheaper - the equivalent of 57 cents a pound for sirloin steak and 59 cents a pound for chicken.

″Argentines have to be constantly convinced there’s a reason to eat chicken,″ said Cargill’s local manager, Archie Fyfe. ″We try to show them the merits of chicken, rather than saying something crazy like, ’Don’t eat beef.‴

According to the U.S. Agriculture Department, Argentines eat an average per capita of 154 pounds of beef a year. Neighboring Uruguay is second at 133 pounds, followed by the United States at 88.4 pounds.

Argentines last year ate an average of only 27 pounds of poultry, 14 pounds of pork and 5.5 pounds of fish per person, according to the National Meat Board.

Some Argentines cringe at fish, although their country has one of the world’s longest coastlines at 2,250 miles and enough fish to attract fleets from as far away as Japan and the Soviet Union.

The historic patterns of heavy beef consumption in Argentina date to the 19th century.

So much beef fattened naturally on the flat, grass-rich pampas that sides of beef were often left to the buzzards after being skinned for leather by Argentine cowboys called gauchos. The gauchos ate only the tongue, which they considered a delicacy.

Laborers in Buenos Aires never brought lunchboxes to construction jobs. Instead, they would bring out a side of beef and cook it over a fire for lunch.

Argentina has 51 million head of cattle and 31 million people, and beef is both a staple and major export earner. Beef financed much of Argentina’s growth earlier this century.

But the government says cattle stocks are about 9 million short of what they should be for the internal and export markets. The shortage resulted from the conversion of pasture lands to grains as the overseas demand for those crops grew and by the over-slaughter of cows about 10 years ago when prices were high.

In September, Ernesto Figueras, secretary of agriculture, livestock and fish, told Argentines they should ″diversify their diets″ so more beef will be available for export.

Even President Raul Alfonsin has asked them to try chicken and other ″white meats″ and suggested they cut beef consumption to 50 pounds a person.

Past administrations have tried ″meatless days″ and bans on beef dishes in favor of chicken, pork and fish to conserve beef for export. Shoppers instead began hoarding beef, and black market beef-trading flourished.

Little is said here about beef as a possible health problem. U.S. and other health authorities advise against an overconsumption of red meats on grounds that their fat contents raise blood cholesterol, which can cause heart disease.

But Argentine beef is considered quite lean because cattle feed on natural grasses in the pampas and are not given bulk-producing drugs. U.S. producers are now offering leaner cuts of beef to American consumers.

Less than 10 percent of Argentina’s total slaughter now earns the foreign revenue the country needs to repay its $53-billion foreign debt, the third- largest in the developing world.

Backed by beef subsidies totaling $2.8 billion, the European Economic Community in the last year replaced Argentina as the world’s leading beef exporter.

Schrader is hoping the government is serious about encouraging the consumption of other meats and said he is looking for land to raise more chickens.

″Who would have thought I’d be a chicken farmer? But so far, so good.″

End Adv Fri AMs Nov. 6