For the past decade, cattle ranchers and meat packers watched with despair as America's beef consumption steadily declined, ceding ground to leaner meats as well as vegetarian trends among the health-conscious.

Most recently, high unemployment in the world's wealthiest nation had cash-strapped Americans avoiding restaurants where beef is a common entree, and had them switching to lower cost non-meat dishes at home.

USDA estimates 2011 U.S. per-capita beef consumption at 57.4 lbs., down 13% from 10 years ago, and down about 25% from 1980. USDA predicts Americans will eat 54.1 lbs. of beef on average in 2012.

The beef industry is coping with these changes by developing new cuts that will satisfy appetites for steaks but at a lower cost. Also, it has benefited from a huge recovery in beef exports, particularly to Asia and Russia where consumers are upgrading their diets.

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