The meat industry processes and transforms various animals for marketing. During the eighteenth century, meat preparation was intended for local markets. The development of the meat industry came about with the preparation of dried beef jerky for export. In the next two centuries, Argentina and Uruguay and other countries with adequate pasturage made meat their principal export. The salting of meat continued until the late nineteenth century, when Brazil, the Antilles and other consumer markets were lost due to the fall of meat consumption among the slaves after the abolition of slavery in those countries.
As jerky production began to decline in the late nineteenth century, merchants began preparing meat extract, and German chemist Justus Von Liebig installed factories in Uruguay and Argentina. Changes in cattle raising and the new technology of refrigeration in the late nineteenth century, which permitted long-distance transportation and created a growing demand in countries such as Great Britain, drove the development of the industry, and frozen and refrigerated beef became vital to the economies of Argentina and Uruguay, and, to a lesser extent of Brazil's.
The meat industry went through several stages in its development. The first stage, from 1870 to 1930, was an era of growth, during which the industry expanded through the use of refrigeration technologies. Initially, tallow chandleries and salteries were reconditioned to provide refrigerated meat, but soon British and U.S. capital made its initial investments, and subsequently these nations exercised an oligopolistic control of prices and trade and together monopolized the ship holds needed for transportation. The best-known establishments were Anglo, Swift, and Armour.
The second stage, from 1930 to 1958, was a period of stagnation. The industry languished as a result of the Great Depression, which led to a reordering of foreign trade. The Imperial Economic Conference of Ottawa (1932–1938) imposed new conditions on the meat trade. It is true that there were periods in which production revived, in particular during World War II with the preparation of products for military consumption and through agreements reached between meat companies and governments, with the aim of holding up the level of exports. In addition, there were some bilateral contracts such as the Roca-Runciman Treaty (1933), signed between Argentina and Great Britain, aiming at maintaining meat exports by awarding companies of British capital with taxing benefits. The treaty, and others like it, was periodically renewed without substantial changes. Nevertheless, during this second stage exports declined for the Río de la Plata meat industry.
The third stage, beginning in 1958 and ending in 1975, was a period of changes in the structure of the industry and of a slight growth of production. These changes included a diversification of industrialized products such as processed meats and prepared meals, the emergence of supermarkets, and new consumption trends. Other changes were the aging and obsolescence of plants, which required new investments of capital; a trend away from concentration in the industry, and, therefore, the declining importance of the traditional oligopoly; and a re-concentration in national markets and specific products. Organizations such as the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank became involved in the industry, providing not only credit but also information and recommendations that stimulated sector activities.
The fourth stage, which began in 1975 and continues into the early twenty-first century, has been a period of industrial heterogeneity and specialization in production and marketing, with differences developing between plants producing for export and those producing for domestic consumption in terms of installations and operating conditions. Some integrated, modern establishments have diversified their production and now combine exporting with production for the domestic market.
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Lobato, Mirta Zaida. La vida en las fábricas: Trabajo, protesta y política en una comunidad obrera, Berisso (1904–1970). Buenos Aires: Prometeo libros, 2001.
Smith, Peter H. Carne y política en la Argentina. Buenos Aires: Paidós, 1985.
Mirta Zaida Lobato