The cattle industry in El Salvador is a small one. It is composed of thousands of small farmers, many of whom raise cattle for their own family’s consumption, or perhaps to sell to their neighbors. The breed of cattle commonly raised are called “criollo” locally, but is actually a variation of Brahman cattle, which is a breed developed in the U.S. from the Indian cattle Bos indicus. This breed was popular due to its ability to tolerate heat as well for its oily skin and smooth coat, which breeders believe increase its resistance to pests such as parasites and diseases. While the breed originated from India, it has been crossbred with European cattle throughout Central and South America. The cattle you can see roaming around the Salvadoran country roads and fields still retain their many of the original features, such as the long, floppy ears, the hump over the shoulder, and a flap of skin hanging loosely from the neck and underside. However, unlike in India, in this region of the world these cattle are used for both beef and milk consumption. They are fed largely agricultural byproducts such as corn stalks, or other materials humans cannot consume. They are often tethered to a stake alongside the roads to graze on the plant life there, or kept in fenced unmaintained pastures (of sorts). Most are consumed either by the family themselves, or sold locally. Due to the fact that El Salvador does not have any inspected and certified slaughterhouses, the local slaughterhouses cannot sell to the export market, nor the local supermarket chains.
El Salvador recently lifted a ban on importing cattle from the U.S., allowing cattle of any age to be imported into the country (previously, the cattle had to be younger than 30 months). Since the majority of beef sold at the supermarkets and in restaurants is from Nicaragua, this new source of beef will likely have little impact on the local production. However, I fear that this will further lower the incentive to build a modern slaughterhouse. The current slaughterhouses are supposed to be closed down, but if there is no additional pressure of farmers wanting to sell locally to larger restaurant and grocery stores, the construction may never begin. This new freedom of export sans verification will also give U.S. corn-fed beef growers a new market; the beef is being marketed as “healthier” than the poor, anemic, grass-fed beef from Nicaragua. Ironic, since the movement in the States is towards grass-fed beef, and although some people still do stand by grain-fed beef, the health claims tend not to support them. Regardless, the supermarket shelves will likely be boasting about the newly imported U.S. beef. (Likely processed and packaged, in part, by illegal Salvadoran immigrants.)