Brazil eyes top spot in beef exports

INSTEAD of declaring war on “Zebu” beef, Irish farmers might be better off to invest in these hump-backed cattle.

Last autumn, DNA tests commissioned by IFA detected "zebu" beef in 12 out of 53 samples of beef being sold as Irish.

This meant that the beef came from outside of Europe, probably from Argentina or Brazil. Brazil is home to the world's largest cattle herd of about 180 million head, of which some 85% are the Nelore bred related to the white, humped backed bos indicus Zebu cattle from India.

But last week's e406,000 auction price for a champion Nelore cow in Brazil shows that the Brazilians aren't going to pull back from their drive to become the world's No 1 beef exporters this year.

With a record 1.35 million tonnes of beef being shipped out of Brazil per year, there's a premium on breeds that can thrive in the country's vast, hot savannas, and the stakes were high last week when Marilin Montanha was auctioned at the world's biggest Zebu cattle fair in Uberaba, in Brazil's Minas Gerais state.

Brazil is home to the world's largest cattle herd, of about 180 million head, of which some 85% are Nelore.

The auction was held in a packed arena holding 2,500 people at the Mata Velha farm of Jonas Barcelos, head of the Brasif chain of duty free shops in Brazilian airports, and the owner of Marilin Montanha.

"It's an extraordinary cow and very fertile," he said.

The four-year-old cow was bought by a consortium led by cattle breeder Joao Carlos Di Genio of the Objetivo Group.

"It's a magnificent animal and you can't go wrong with this type of genetic investment.

"In one or one a half years we will have recouped our money," said Di Genio, who also spent e220,500 on another cow.

Two years ago, Di Genio bought a half share in a Nelore cow which was auctioned for a record e551,600.

Also last week an auction of cattle embryos fetched prices of more than e11,000.

The Brazil cattle genetics price boom is bad news for European beef industry sources who fear that South American exporters will fill the growing gap in lucrative EU beef markets, to the point where they eventually dictate the beef price on these markets.

With EU countries now taking almost 40% of Brazil's huge beef exports, it is the South American farmers who have benefited most from improved European beef markets.

Brazil's devalued currency, its decreased incidence of foot-and-mouth disease, its apparent absence of BSE, the low cost of land, and a Government focus on export crops to fight economic stagnation and unemployment, are just some of the factors causing the country's beef barons to dip into their pockets for prize Zebu cows.

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