Cuba has a lot of laws and rules that can seem strange to visitors. One thing someone may notice when visiting or moving to the country is the lack of beef available to purchase.
Even most Cuban recipes and dishes use meats like pork over beef – so what is Cuba’s issue with beef? Is it illegal?
Here we are going to be taking a look at Cuba’s laws to explain the lack of beef available for purchase in the country.
This way, you can understand why it’s near impossible to find or order beef in the country.
So, let’s jump right in!
Is Beef Illegal In Cuba?
Beef itself is not illegal in Cuba but despite this, it’s almost impossible to find and purchase beef. This is because while beef is not illegal, killing a cow can be.
Cuba has a complicated history with beef and cows that stretches back to 1963. During this time, Hurricane Flora swept across the Caribbean and hit places such as Tobago, Haiti, and Cuba.
It was one of the deadliest hurricanes in recorded history with a death total reaching 7,000 people – but in Cuba, there was another price to pay.
Cuba had already been struggling with food rations and restrictions due to the embargo placed upon it by the United States after the Cuban Revolution in 1959.
However, the country lost a quarter of its coffee crops, a majority of their banana and orange crops, and half of the winter rice and cotton crops.
Hurricane Flora also killed a fifth of the country’s herd of cattle.
As a result, further rations and restrictions were implemented to make up for the loss in produce.
One unpopular rule that was introduced was the banning of killing cows without the Cuban government’s express permission.
This meant that farmers could not kill their cows to produce beef or sell any beef they created from dead cows.
The reason why this rule was introduced was to try and encourage more cows to be born to raise the number of cattle back to its previous population.
Plus, there were fears that there would be a milk shortage in Cuba as a result and since milk is vital for the growth of children, the ban on killing cows was brought in to help ensure that enough milk would still be produced.
Fines were introduced to farmers who killed their own cows and they would be investigated over the death of every cow.
As a result, less and less people opted to own cows in Cuba apart from one for milking. This is because those who earned more than one cow would be investigated if one cow died while the other survived.
Some farmers even hid calves to avoid being caught when they eventually killed them for beef.
This law also saw an increase in cattle rustlers and those who were caught would face up to 15 years in jail – which is a term longer than what some people face for murder in the same country.
Over fifty years later, this rule is still in place today.
This is why there is such a shortage of beef in Cuba. Although selling and buying beef itself is not illegal, the killing of cows and the production of beef without the government’s permission is.
Can You Buy Beef In Cuba?
If you have heard that beef is illegal in Cuba and you are concerned because you ate beef when you last visited the country, then don’t worry – beef can still be sold, bought, and eaten in the country as long as the beef was produced with the government’s permission.
So if you ate in a restaurant and were given beef, it is very likely that the beef you ate was legal.
Beef is generally kept for children and pregnant women because it is believed that beef will provide them with the correct nutrients to help avoid illness and promote growth.
However, it is possible for you to find beef available for purchase in certain markets and restaurants.
There is also a black market in Cuba where you can buy illegal beef (beef that was not made with the government’s permission, thus involving the illegal killing of a cow) where it may be sold under fake names such as ‘forbidden meat’ or ‘paddock chicken’ – but purchasing these codenamed beef will land you in hot water.
Killing a cow yourself will even get you into more trouble.
The maximum sentence for killing a cow without the Cuban government’s permission is 15 years, which has led to a joke circulating around Cuba that it is the only country in the world where you can go to jail longer for killing a cow than a person.
The Future For Beef In Cuba
The law banning the killing of cows without the Cuban government’s permission has persisted for over 50 years – but the future’s looking bright for Cuban citizens hoping for a more diverse diet in the future.
In 2021, the Cuban government announced that they would be slackening the laws surrounding beef and dairy production in the country.
They announced that ranchers would be allowed to deal with their own cattle in any way they liked – but only after the rancher met state quotas and guaranteed that their choices would not result in the reduction of the herd.
This doesn’t exactly translate into ‘more beef’ on Cuban markets but it is a step in the direction of Cuba scrapping the law entirely. However, for now, the law will be staying in place.
This is because Cuba continues to rely on important food and rations.
Production through agriculture and livestock has been stagnant in recent years due to the combined factors of climate change, lack of access to agricultural tools and machinery, fertilizers, and more.
US sanctions and embargoes are still in place long after the Cuban Revolution and Fidel Castro’s death, and the pandemic also limited tourism income.
This means that Cuba is now strapped for cash more than they have been in a long time.
So, while the rule is not expected to stay around forever, it may be a long time before ranchers in Cuba have full control over their own cattle.
It’s easy to understand why so many people may mistakenly believe that beef is illegal in Cuba.
In a way, it is – but only illegal beef that was created by killing a cow without the Cuban government’s permission.
The reason for this law’s creation was because after Hurricane Flora killed so many cows back in the 1960s, the government in Cuba was concerned that they would eventually have a shortage of milk if too many cows were used to produce beef.
As a result they introduced the law to keep track of Cuba’s cow population.
The law is an unpopular one and has led to a rise in cattle rustling in Cuba as well as more reliance on other meats such as pork or chicken, but beef is not outlawed there and you can order some from certain restaurants when you visit.
So, make sure the beef you are purchasing is legally sourced beef and you won’t run into any trouble while on your trip to Cuba!