At the same time, cattle supply is at an all-time low in the U.S. after nearly three years of drought, which led to more farmers killing off their herds earlier than planned. U.S. beef output will hit a 20-year low of 24.205 billion pounds this year, according to Department of Agriculture forecasts. It will be 2017 before production is restored, Peel predicts.
High prices are causing concerns in the industry that demand will be affected – and that lower consumption will mean farmers switch to other products.
"The main challenge for the industry is: Where does the beef come from?" Albert Vernooij, a meat industry analyst, told CNBC.
Sometimes, of course, it's not beef at all. Last year's horsemeat scandal in the U.K., where some producers were discovered to have substituted beef for horse in cheaper beef products, illustrated the negative effects consumer demand for cheap beef can have.
"The challenge is always that the food service chains want to offer burgers at the same price," Vernooij said. Chains like McDonald's and Burger King want to keep their flagship burgers at a similar price – but beef is one of their biggest commodity costs.
(Read more: McDonald's website bashes fast food)
Beef has a much longer life cycle than other meats like poultry or pork. Cattle are typically slaughtered for their meat at between 2.5-3 years old – although that has come down to around 2.3 years in 2013 as producers tried to compensate for the effects of drought, according to Rabobank.
"We have been in a drought situation for much of the last three years which has caused a 60-year low in cattle numbers. We are now looking at a period of reduced production as part of that process is allowing cows to mature, and allowing people to rebuild their herds," Peel said.
This longer life cycle, and a low level of multiple births, mean that producers find it more difficult to adjust quickly to price movements.
On the other hand, it also means that the developed markets face less immediate danger from emerging markets producers than poultry or pork, which are much quicker and easier to set up and ramp up production in countries like China or Russia.
(Read more: Lean times at the grill)
The cycle between peak and trough of the beef industry, which is usually about a decade long, has been changed by "abnormal conditions" over the past 15 years, according to Peel.
"The beef industry was really ready to expand in 2011, but drought has prevented their plans," he said.
There are two main ways of rearing cows for beef production: grass feeding and feedlots, which brings them to market weight more quickly, but is also more vulnerable to changes in the cost of commodities like corn and other grains.
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The use of feedlots has also come under attack by animal rights campaigners.
"It's simply cheaper to raise cattle on a feedlot than pasture," Simon said.