A picture really can say a thousand words. And, while a week-long trip through Brazil's cattle country can only scratch the surface of this country's vast beef industry, it goes a long way in learning a few facts and dispelling a few myths.

The country produces almost 7 million metric tons of beef each year from a total population of 165 million head.

One “missing picture” in the Brazilian cattle industry though, is that of a North American-style feedlot. Only 4% of the cattle killed each year are “fattened” in feedlots. With Europe being Brazil's main beef export market, the majority is grown to finish under a hormone-free regime on grass pastures. At times during the dry season, small amounts of corn or soybean meal may be used to supplement grass gains.

Most cattle are sold directly by farmers to small, inefficient slaughterhouses — seldom with intermediate traders. Only breeding stock is sold through live auction markets.

Brazil has tripled its beef exports in the past three years to about 550,000 tons. Through export-certified entities like Bertin Group Ltd., the Brazilian government hopes to increase exports to 1.15 million tons by 2003. Brazilian beef is exported to Chile, Egypt, Germany, Iran, Israel, Italy, Netherlands, Saudi Arabia, the European Union and the U.S.