Argentina is a nation that prides itself on having more cattle than people but because of erred policies may soon be forced to import beef to keep its meat-loving citizens happy at the dinner table.
Intense government efforts to keep meat affordable through taxes, export restrictions and price controls have enabled Argentines to eat record amounts of beef this year, but the short-term bonanza has come at a very steep cost.
With little or no profit left in meat, ranchers are selling out, slaughtering even the cows needed to maintain their herds.
President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, who famously dismissed soy as a "weed," has said her Government must protect consumers at a time when booming soy production has taken over 13 million hectares of grassland once used for ranching.
Her Government also has paid huge subsidies for massive feedlot operations where previously grass-fed cattle are fattened on corn and grain. But it still takes three years from the moment a calf is born for a cut of beef to reach the supermarket, where the price - set weekly by government bureaucrats - is less than the going rate for a pizza that takes minutes to make.
By August of this year, Argentines devoured more than the average body-weight in beef, nearly 74 kilos, the most in 15 years, according to the Chamber of Commerce of the Argentine Meat Industry. Most Argentines stubbornly reject the idea of replacing beef with chicken, pork or other meats.
Despite rich South Atlantic fisheries, seafood is rarely seen on dinner tables, and vegetarians are generally seen as culturally suspect.
Argentina's meat industry slaughtered about 11 million head of cattle during the first eight months of this year, more than any similar period in the past two decades.
"It would be great news were it not for the fact that 50 per cent of the cattle slaughtered were female," said Miguel Schiariti, the chamber's meat industry president.
"By 2011, the shortage will be evident and it will be impossible to continue without importing beef," added Hugo Biolcati, president of the Argentine Rural Society.
"You can't work miracles so that more calves are born," Biolcati added. "What is born, is born, and there won't be more."
At roughly 55 million head, cattle still outnumber the 45 million humans in Argentina.
But that will flip in 2011 if current trends continue, according to beef industry consultant Victor Tonelli. Argentina's stock is expected to have 3 million fewer calves next year - cattle that would have produced 600.000 tonnes of meat at slaughter.
Argentina's meat policy has seen neighbouring Uruguay cattle breeding industry soar with business. For several years now Uruguay has been exporting greater volumes of beef and in 2011 will probably become Argentina's natural supplier of the missing calves. Uruguay has a population of 3.6 million and cattle heard of 12 million.