SteakYou know beef has gotten expensive when people start stealing it. That's what happened a a couple of weeks ago in Austin, Texas, when six men shoplifted raw meat from a large grocery store by shoving it down their pants. According to USA Today, "meat thieves -- organized groups who target steaks and high-end cuts at supermarkets for resale to unscrupulous restaurants and markets -- are a growing problem."

The Austin heist is small compared to the 41,350 pounds of ground beef -- worth $95,000 -- stolen from a truck stop in Louisiana in February, when a driver briefly left his 18-wheeler unattended.

Lt. Rickey Morgan of the Geneva, Alabama, police force, which investigated the incident, told USA Today that thieves can easily identify meat inspected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture because the product is transported on trucks with unique tags on the vehicle's exterior. "You'll have folks that ride around truck stops, they'll see the tag and they know it's some type of meat product. It may be hamburger, it may be steaks, they don't know, but they know it's a high-dollar load."

Although a raw-meat crime ring probably doesn't have the makings of a blockbuster movie, it does speak to the fact that beef is getting more expensive. Between March 2010 and March 2011, retail beef prices grew 13%, or 52 cents per pound, according to
CattleFax, an industry research organization. That represents the largest 12-month gain since 2004. Prices for some cuts of meat have increased even more, including top sirloin, which is up 34%.

Why Beef Prices are Moo-ving Up

There are a numerous explanations for the rising prices. For starters, says Sara Baker, public relations manager at Sageworks, a financial analysis firm, "the price of feed is going up...corn prices, for example, are nearing a record high," as is hay, another key component of cattle feed.

Not only have the rising grain prices increased the overall cost of raising cattle, they've also motivated some ranchers to simply exit the beef business entirely, in turn reducing the supply.

"With very high grain prices in the last several years, a lot of farmers and ranchers have plowed up their hay land and gone to row crops [like grains]," explains John Ginzel of the Linn Group, a commodity market analysis firm. "This is across a lot of southern areas especially, where the smaller producers liquidated their beef cattle herds and went to row crops and wheat to generate greater revenue."

Further complicating matters is the severe drought plaguing the southern part of the country. Texas, for example, is in the throes of its 10 driest months in more than a century
, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. Other traditional ranching states, including Oklahoma, New Mexico and Arizona, also are suffering from a lack of rainfall.

As a result, land traditionally available as pasture for grazing cattle is now unusable. Some ranchers have been able to salvage their livestock by taking the animals to market earlier than planned. But others have had to slaughter entire herds for lack of pasture land.

At the same time that production is shrinking, American meat exports are growing. "The cheap dollar has stimulated red meat exports," Ginzel explains. "Also, we have strong growth in beef and pork due to an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in South Korea, creating strong demand in Japan, Vietnam and other countries."

How to Save on Beef

As demand abroad continues to boom, American consumers are feeling the pain from the rising cost of beef at the grocery store. Trevor Amen of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association and the Beef Checkoff Program has advice for balancing your beef budget.

"You can buy in bulk -- either buy a larger piece and cut it up into steaks, or buy a larger package -- and learn how to extend those larger purchases for more meals throughout the week [by using recipes] or put some in the freezer. You can get a lower price per pound on bulk." Additionally, Amen suggests looking for coupons and advertised specials.

So the good news is that you can still find deals on beef. The bad news, at least according to Ginzel, is that prices will climb further before they come down. Which means that we beef eaters have the opportunity to put into practice nutritionists' favorite saying: all things in moderation.

If you want to learn more about the nutritional content of various cuts of meat, check out this wacky Interactive Meat Case, which simulates the shopping experience to help you pick the best cut of meat for your needs.

Loren Berlin is a reporter with the AOL Huffington Post Media Group. She can be reached at loren.berlin@teamaol.com, on Twitter at @LorenBerlin, and on Facebook.

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106 Comments

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victruseli

just face it......starve the poor and the majority and raise the price of corn....meat, etc. if corn syrup and and corn products were not added to everything and i do mean everything....corn syrup is an additive and sugar ans salt. make the public fat and stupid and diabetic and we blame it all on the public and still raise prices higher and higher on meat. so if you are rich no problem and if you are food stamps or you are retired on social security just die. that is what the ultra wealthy are thinking and it is what they are doing... sad sad sad. genocide by deceit.

June 13 2013 at 1:39 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
CrazyEyes

Vegetarian or not, everyone has to agree that the astronomical rise in beef prices- even ALL groceries - in recent years is absurd. Not that long ago, you would see hamburger on sale for .99 - now the sale price is maybe $1.99, if you're lucky. And buy local? Please - that is even MORE absurdly expensive. I don't understand why local items are more expensive - there's NO middle man, I'm buying right from the farmer!

January 21 2012 at 10:33 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
good day

Best way to save on beef is to refuse to buy it.

August 20 2011 at 9:48 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Captain

Eat more pork!

August 19 2011 at 6:24 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
triangulum23

The high cost of beef is a direct result of the high feed corn prices. Corn prices are high because the Obama Administration policy is to do all it can to stop oil drilling and instead turn our food into fuel. This misguided policy will result in millions starving to death world wide, higher beef and other food prices domestically and do little to prompt energy independence. This is another brilliant policy decision example from the genius in the White House. What have we done?

August 19 2011 at 7:13 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to triangulum23's comment
savemycountry911

Don't give libs too big a dose of reality. They can't handle it.

August 20 2011 at 8:39 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
daltonustynik

Why is beef so high when cattlemen all over texas and mostof the southwest have to cull their herds becsue pastures are drying up becsue of the drougth . As far as Bush he didndt casue thedrougth but he did casue the 3 trillion dollar wars in the mid east.

August 18 2011 at 11:06 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
idraconis

Oh! they left out one more thing, Greed.Once there's a spike everyone jumps on broad.

August 18 2011 at 7:46 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Judy

I hope beef prices keep rising. Perhaps then people will switch to a vegetarian diet. If humane considerations don't move people, then maybe economic considerations will. Unfortunately, most people care more about money than about ethics. People who are concerned about ethics should learn about "living" conditions on factory farms.

August 18 2011 at 7:08 AM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to Judy's comment
good day

If everyone becomes a vegetarian, just think of the money saved if people do back yard gardens or rent small garden plots. People still need some form of protein, but red meat is not a must have for health.

August 20 2011 at 9:52 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
jerrylew1s

DO YOU STEP IN SNAILS?

August 20 2011 at 8:31 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to jerrylew1s's comment
savemycountry911

Snails are protein.

August 20 2011 at 8:38 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down
nos2001

the story talks about prices of meat,corn, wheat... no-where does it tell why the those prices are up. the bottom line is ETHANOL.. this has to be the biggest screw up by our government. because of demand for corn-(food and to make ethanol) the price of corn has gotten very very expensive....farmers that used to grow wheat have changed to corn because of it.. supply of wheat is now down so it went up in price also. guess what most animals eat?

August 18 2011 at 6:13 AM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
svvalkyrie

So if we're ( the USA), in a global economy let's act like it, our public leaders should , without concern for their own profits, trade surplus grain for oil, ...etc., etc. Surplus after we have free or very cheap food and that lending to other commodities. I know some could never get their heads around this.... hell, I remember back in the '70's living in Austin that $10 to $15 bucks could get a hind quarter deliveried to the back door.

August 18 2011 at 6:08 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to svvalkyrie's comment
good day

Maybe the government should stop paying farmers not to plant some of their fields and the shortages could go down.

August 20 2011 at 9:54 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
good day

Maybe the government should stop paying farmers not to plant some of their fields and the shortages could go down.

August 20 2011 at 9:54 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply