Once the world's biggest beef exporter, Argentina is struggling to produce enough beef to satisfy its booming national appetite for red meat. With beef consumption nearing an all-time high of 80 kilograms per person annually, the traditional beef production powerhouse may have to import up to one million tonnes of beef next year.

While the Argentinean herd has stabilised at about 50 million head, consumption continues to grow in line with population. Meat and Livestock Australia put the nation's recent slowing in exports - down nearly 27 per cent in 2006 alone - down to a disease outbreak in the same year followed by a self imposed 180-day exporting ban. Government regulation on minimum weights for cattle at slaughter also contributed to lower volume of beef exports in 2006 which have persisted, MLA said. Before 2006, Argentina was the world's fifth largest beef exporter, behind Brazil, Australia, India and New Zealand. Since then, competition from the soybean and, more recently, grain industry, has also hampered beef production. Argentina does not compete in key Australian export markets and is expected to source additional beef from neighboring Uruguay.