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Where's the beef? Consumers shell-shocked at rising beef prices

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FOX News is reporting on Saturday the U.S. is experiencing the highest beef prices in almost 30 years. With the grilling season knocking at the door, consumers, restaurant owners and fast-food establishments alike are in for a shock, right in the pocket book, and there is no relief in sight.

A seemingly everlasting drought across large areas of the Great Plains, Texas and California has led to the smallest U.S. cattle herd the country has seen since 1951. With the slowly dwindling number of cattle and ever-increasing export numbers, mainly to China and Japan, the price of a piece of beef has skyrocketed.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), In January of this year, the average retail price of fresh beef was $5.04 a pound, the highest price on records dating back to 1987. One month later, in February, the price rose to $5.28 a pound. A look at the local grocery store ads in the Richmond, Virginia area show a range of beef prices.

The cost of a pound of ground chuck in Richmond is $4.49 to $4.99 a pound, with a beef shoulder roast running $5.49 a pound. For the brave-at-heart, T-bone steaks are going for $9.99 a pound, and if you have a store customer card, you can get one for $7.99 a pound.

It is not just the consumer who is going to feel the affects of the rising prices. Restaurants are cutting back on the size of their steaks, or making the cuts a little thinner to offset the price increases. Some restaurants have had to change their menu prices to reflect the rising beef prices.

Even fast-food restaurants are tightening their belts. Menus are being trimmed and more alternatives to beef are being offered, such as turkey burgers and fish and chicken sandwiches. The one advantage fast-food companies have is the ability to buy in quantity, which gives them a small discount.

Many shoppers are opting for pork, fish and poultry instead of beef. But a virus affecting piglets and killing millions, has driven pork prices up lately, too. Chicken has also been hit with price increases, with prices for chicken in February at $1.95 a pound, the highest since October, 2013.

The price increases on beef are expected to last quite a while because of the need to build up the cattle herds. The country can only hope the drought conditions abate so that ranchers will have pasture lands to feed their animals, and farmers can grow the grains and vegetables needed by the population. It is a vicious cycle of weather, animals, food, water and consumers.

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