By Benjamin Flowers
Beef steak and ground beef may become prohibitively expensive for many Belizeans if prices continue to rise.
Data from the Statistical Institute of Belize showed that from April 2013-April 2015 the average price per lb. of beef steak rose from $6.02 to $7.32. The average price per lb. for ground beef also went up from $4.25 to $5.32 during the same period.
Cumulative data from the SIB’s Consumer Price Index, which measures price changes of various goods, showed that even in December 2014 when gas prices were falling by 16.8 percent, when compared to the previous year, beef steak prices were up by 5.04 percent.
The SIB, which collects prices from over 1,200 outlets across the country, gathers an average of five prices per beef product from each municipality to ensure the accuracy of its data.
Chief Executive Officer of Agriculture in the Ministry of Natural Resources and Agriculture, Jose Alpuche, explained this week that external factors are driving up the prices in country.
“What has happened is that the demand has increased tremendously, both on the domestic and the regional market,” Alpuche said, “so the farmers are now benefiting from an increased market demand, and that is what is driving up the price.”
Alpuche added that since the ministry began its cattle sweep two years ago, Belizean cows and bulls have been found to have low prevalences of major diseases. The clean bill of health, coupled with the investments local farmers have been making in breeding and rearing techniques, have more customers from neighboring countries looking to buy Belizean beef.
He added that his ministry recently signed an agreement with the foreign ministry of Mexico, to work on bilateral trade arrangements in the sale of cattle. One of the key objectives behind the agreement is to work out a way to lower the import tariff on Belizean beef, to make it more competitive on the Mexican market.
Representatives from both countries are due to meet later this month to refine the agreement, and to set up a tripartite agreement among the governments of Belize, Mexico and Guatemala., which would allow Belizean beef to enter both markets.
It is unclear to what extent the success of the agreement will affect the local supply of cattle; however with the current rise in demand, causing consistent price hikes, it is possible that the success of the agreement would drive prices even higher.
Chief Executive Officer of the Belize Livestock Producers Association, Alistair Macpherson, offered some perspective from the farmers and the retailers, explaining that both groups have, for a considerable number of years, been losing money on sales of cattle and cattle products.
He underscored that the average price per cattle has traditionally been $1.05, with a low of 90 cents per lb.; however, farmers have only recently, within the last four years, managed to make it $2.50 per lb.
He went on to say that retailers have several considerations to make, which influence the price of their beef.
“The return rate is like 54 percent, so if you buy a 1,000-lb animal, after you remove the hyde and bones and stuff you’ll only end up with about 540 lbs of meat that you can sell,” Macpherson said.
He added that of that 540 lbs, prime cuts of meat, such as tender loin, only come at between 5 and 10 lbs per animal, which accounts for the higher prices.
Macpherson did, however, point out that stewing beef still stands at $6.00 per lb.