LA PLATA, ARGENTINA — Cattle-rustling is an age-old problem on Argentina's legendary Pampas plains, but genetic testing is helping police crack down on thieves.
Argentina, one of the world's top beef exporters, is famous for its free-range beef from grass-fed cattle. Experts say lax controls and the sheer scale of some ranches make life easy for rustlers.
However, plans are underway to expand a pioneering database of genetic samples from 10,000 cattle that has helped police solve 270 cases of cattle-rustling since it was established in Buenos Aires province seven years ago.
Steaks or sausages suspected of coming from stolen animals can be used as a source of DNA to cross-reference with the samples of hair, blood or flesh kept in the cattle database, which is managed by the state-run Genetic Veterinary Institute, also known as Igevet.
Before the database was set up, it was difficult for police to prove rustling, even when they had identified suspects.
"The police always knew who it was . . . but there was no evidence that could prove it," said Pilar Peral Garcia, director of Igevet, which is based in La Plata, capital of Buenos Aires province.