Time to Panic? Predictions of a Coming Bacon Shortage!
CNBC.com News Editor
The droughts that ravaged crops across North American and Russia have had a huge impact on the food supply, livestock and farmers but now it may be time to hit the “panic” button – one pig group is predicting a BACON SHORTAGE.
“A world shortage of pork and bacon next year is now unavoidable,” the National Pig Association in the UK said this week.
The droughts meant less feed to go around and farmers had to take drastic measures. One farmer fed his cows candy to survive, while others have pared their herds. The NPA warned that he number of slaughtered pigs could drop by 10 percentin the second half of next year and that could cause the price of pork products to DOUBLE.
The group is taking the situation so seriously, they have launched a “Save Our Bacon” campaign.
So, what does this mean for bacon lovers in the U.S.?
“Unfortunately it does seem as though this is an unavoidable event due to drought conditions in key pork producing areas,” said Heather Lauer, author of the “Bacon Unwrapped” blog and the book “Bacon: A Love Story.”
Twitter was peppered with all sorts of concern about a possible bacon crisis. “Our worst fear is coming to pass — global bacon shortage!” @allbacon wrote. “Go, scramble the jets! Get me the PM!” @ckk527 wrote.
Some of the bacon Twitterati kicked into action mode. “Time to get that backyard pig?” @JP_Permaculture asked. And @Agropinion said, “Need bigger freezer!”
“My first reaction to the news was: The Mayans were right. This is how it's going down!” Lauer said.
During this time of potential national crisis, we turned to the National Pork Producers Council for guidance and they said — don’t hit the panic button just yet.
U.S. hog farmers have been reducing their herds due to high feed costs but the situation isn’t as severe as it is in the UK and other European Union nations, where some nations have reduced herds 10 percent or more.
“I don’t think we’re too worried about it,” said Dave Warner, a spokesman for the NPCC. “We’re seeing a little bit of that [paring herds] here but not nearly what you’re seeing there.”
U.S. hog farmers probably won’t pare their herds more than 3 percent in the next 6 to 8 months, which would mean an increase in retail prices on bacon and other pork products of about 8 to 10 percent, said Steve Meyer, the president of Paragon Economics and a consultant to pork industry.
“Eight to 10 percent isn’t per se a crisis,” Meyer said.
And, it’s important to draw the line between the two because UK bacon is a completely different product than US bacon, he said — it’s more like loin there — and the US doesn’t import bacon from other countries.
“A global reduction in supply is almost unavoidable but I don’t think we’re going to have lines for bacon the U.S.!” said Meyer, who also writes a daily livestock report. “Are we going to have less product in the second half of 2013? Yes.”
Rising meat prices have been a concern to the industry for the last five years since the rise of ethanol, which, like feed for livestock, comes from corn. The recent drought in the U.S. and Russia piled on to that. Meyer said without ethanol as a base strain on the industry, it might have weathered the drought better. Though, the drought was even a rarity — the last time the U.S. corn belt suffered a drought was 1988.
Meyer said the unbelievable attention that the potential shortage has received is a testament to America’s sizzling, smokey love affair with bacon.
“I’ve been talking about [rising meat prices] since 2006 but nobody would listen until someone said we’re not going to have enough bacon,” Meyer said. “If I’d known that I’d have used different words. Don’t take away their bacon!”
To be clear, there isn't necessarily going to be a shortage in the U.S., Meyer said, but prices are definitely still a big concern.
The price of bacon and other pork products hit a record $3.56 a pound in 2011 and last month reached $3.53, according to the USDA.
“I wouldn’t be surprised to see that number go to $3.60 to $3.70 a pound,” Meyer said.
And this is not good news for families who are already grappling with unemployment and digging out of the recession.
“Anytime you drive up retail prices — beef, pork, chicken, turkey, eggs, milk … it falls on people with low incomes and fixed incomes,” he said. “The people who can’t afford it.”
Over the summer, the government announced a plan to buy $100 million of pork products for schools, the military, etc. It’s a start, but Meyer said it’s still probably not enough to make a dent in the industry’s problems.
So, let’s cut to the chase — which presidential candidate would be better for bacon?
Meyer said the industry isn’t favoring either candidate but what they’d vote for is less regulation.
“It’s not a crisis but there will certainly be a reduction in pork supplies in 2013 and that means higher prices for consumers,” he said.
Still, Lauer said, she’s not taking any chances.
Mulling the reality of a post-apocalyptic, bacon-less Sunday brunch, “there is serious potential for a breakdown in our social structure!” she quipped. “And who knows what lengths people will go to in order to fulfill their basic bacon needs.”
In an effort to "get ahead of this life-altering event," Brooks Reynolds, one of the co-founders of the Blue Ribbon Bacon Festival, and other members of the Iowa Bacon Board, traveled to Reykjavik, Iceland for the "International Bacon Summit."
"One of the key resolutions from the Icelandic and Iowa Bacon Boards was to build a world with the proverbial pig in every pot, similar to Herbert Hoover's 'chicken in every pot' presidential slogan in 1928," Reynolds said. "The first step in accomplishing this lofty goal is to encourage bacon lovers to go out and raise their own pigs. If they don't have room in their homes for a pig, we recommend building a 'personal bacon readiness kit' over the next year, which should include things like: thick cut, applewood smoked, dry cured, Berkshire, etc."
He's afraid to even think of a possible bacon shortage and what it could mean -- social and political unrest, an increased need for swine security and a "tidal wave of black market (boar bacon, tofu bacon, turkey bacon and beef bacon) bacon hitting the streets," he said.
And if there were a shortage, what would it mean for the Blue Ribbon Bacon Festival?
"We would most likely need to heighten security and consider using identification verification equipment like retinal scans at the door," Reynolds said.
“Perhaps it’s finally time for our country to address the need for a Strategic Bacon Reserve,” Lauer said firmly. “In the meantime, I’m going into survival mode and have already started stockpiling. As FEMA says, ‘Prepare. Plan. Stay informed.’”
Well said, Heather. Stay tuned to the Pony blog for all the latest bacon and bacon crisis news!
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