The traditional image of the Argentine butcher weighed down by half a cow carcass on their back could be consigned to history after a new government ruling.
Since coming to power in 2019, President Alberto Fernández’s government has been determined to end the practice, which dates back to the 19th century, on hygiene and health grounds.
It ruled Monday that the "half-animal" cut (media res de carne vacuna) can be preserved – but butchers are no longer allowed to carry it on their back.
A butcher bent double under the huge cut is a well-known scene in beef-mad Argentina, where citizens eat almost 48 kilogrammes of the meat a year per capita, according to official statistics.
But the "half-animal" can weigh more than 100 kilogrammes, a crushing load for even the sturdiest butcher, and carrying it can cause back or muscular injury.
"The debate is about whether we continue commercialising beef like 150 years ago or – as required by the health, bromatological, worker and consumer health – in the 21st century," Agriculture, Livestock & Fisheries Secretary Juan José Bahillo said recently.
The sector itself was divided over the long-running issue and, as usual, for the most part it revolved around money. Some were in favour of modernisation and preventing large pieces of meat coming into contact with different surfaces. But many argued that new rules would benefit major exporters to the detriment of smaller producers without the means to invest in new machinery.
Another solution would have been to increase the price to the consumer – an unpopular idea in a country where inflation reached almost 95 percent last year.
A 2020 law reduced the maximum weight of a beef cut that can be carried by a person to 25 kilogrammes. That was amended the next year to 32 kilogrammes but authorities still wanted to eliminate the half-animal cut.
This week, a compromise was found. The half-animal cut remains, but it must be moved from trucks using a pulley and rail system, the Agriculture, Livestock & Fisheries Ministry said.
The new law will be phased in "systematically and progressively," it added.