Beef Is In Again

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., right, accompanied by fellow House Democratic leaders including House Majority Whip James Clyburn of S.C., left, talks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, May 10, 2007, after a closed-door meeting to discuss Iraq war legislation.
AP Photo /J. Scott Applewhite
At tables across the country these days, beef is suddenly in again — no matter the cut, no matter the cost, reports CBS News Correspondent Cynthia Bowers.
Carolyn Stem of New York City didn't think a cheap cut could be so expensive. "I was surprised it would cost me $26."

That's for rump roast. Choice cuts average around $3.20 a pound, 20 to 30 cents above normal.

"You're going to have some customers that are going to complain because the price is going to go up, some are going to accept it and still buy it because they're addicted to the beef," said Charles Schillaci, a butcher.

Despite record high prices, and concerns overseas about mad cow and foot and mouth disease, Americans are suddenly bullish on beef.

"Even though we have had record beef production the last couple of years, we have been able to advance in price and that hasn't happened for twenty years," said livestock analyst Chuck Levitt.

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Analysts credit a strong economy, a high-protein diet fad and savvy marketing by the beef industry for reversing a two-decade decline. Consumer demand for red meat is up more than 6 percent over the last two years, to 66 pounds per person.

Since 1997, the number of high-end steakhouses has tripled to nearly 500, but at a time when cattlemen should be making a killing, instead they're wondering where's the beef, after a wicked winter left their cattle just plain skinny — 30 to 50 pounds underweight.

"We started out in early December with a lot of cold weather, moisture, rain, sleet and snow and it hasn't stopped yet," explained J.D. Alexander of the Nebraska Cattlemen's Association.

So far, consumers have been shielded somewhat from bearing the full brunt — many restaurants have held off marking up menus.

"We'll serve good food at a profit if wcan and a loss if we must — and our view is it works itself out," said Marc Shulman of Eli's, a steak restaurant.

But selling at loss probably will not be necessary anytime soon; prices are expected to stay high, as is demand, for the next few years. Many believe the only thing that could curb America's appetite is disease, and so far only the fear has spread.

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