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Published: Nov 04, 2015 3 min read
Megan Maloy-Getty Images

Despite recent studies indicating the link between red meat and cancer, America remains hungry for beef. Droughts have reduced cattle herds around the world, pushing prices up and up: For instance, the price of beef in Australia, an important exporter to the U.S., is up 40% this year, according to the Wall Street Journal. Steaks in American supermarkets cost an average of $7.19 a pound in August, an all-time high (before adjusting for inflation.)

High beef prices have caused many consumers to shy away from steak dinners in favor of cheaper meats such as pork. Apparently, sky-high beef prices are also nudging some into shoplifting prime cuts, either for their personal consumption or to resell on the black market.

CBS News reported this week that meat is currently the top item stolen by shoplifters in America, and soaring prices are a big reason why. “You only have so much money you can spend on groceries, so if the cost of ground beef goes up 30 percent to 40 percent, you have two ways of eating beef — eating less, or in this case, stealing it,” Jamie Schweid, of Schweid & Sons Burgers, said.

Thieves have been swiping meat all over the country in recent months, amounting to huge losses for grocery stores. The thefts include $400 worth from a pair of Walmarts in Corpus Christi, Texas, a $170 meat heist at a Kroger store in West Virginia, $600 worth of meat stolen from two Price Chopper stores in Vermont, a supermarket break-in in Washington state in which a thief allegedly made off with $4,000 worth of meat (and some Hot Pockets) this past summer, and on and on.

Criminals aren't only targeting supermarkets. In some cases, they're going directly to the source. Hence the return of cattle rustlers, who have been stealing calves off ranches in places like Texas and Iowa. In some cases, calves can sell for well over $1,000 at auction. So clearly, people aren't stealing solely to put dinner on the table that night. Because of the sharp increase in beef prices, the prospect of stealing meat—or cows—is more lucrative for the thieves, so heists are more worth the risk.