By Dave White, Ohio Livestock Coalition
We all have our favorite toppings for a sandwich. I’m not a mayonnaise or miracle whip kind of guy. My favorite toppings include avocado or guacamole, barbecue sauce, pickles and bacon.
So when one of my friends asked me about a television network’s morning news show reporting that a bacon shortage was forthcoming, it naturally got my attention.
Turns out it’s another thing we can blame on the British. The United Kingdom’s National Pig Association wanted its British customers to feel okay about the possibility of paying higher prices for pork. The opening paragraph of the pig group’s news
release got it all started, creating almost panic-like conditions on the Internet and a crazed frenzy in the world of social media: “A world shortage of pork and bacon next year is now unavoidable.”
With a nation full of bacon enthusiasts (one article about the shortage referred to us as “worshippers”), perhaps it’s no surprise that U. S. consumers became alarmed with the news of an impending bacon shortage.
Then again, things also got lost in translation. The bacon the Brits call bacon isn’t the same thing we call bacon. The bacon they call bacon is what we call Canadian bacon, which comes from a different part of the hog than our bacon, which is made from pork belly.
I like Canadian bacon as I cannot enjoy one of my favorite breakfast dishes — eggs Benedict — without it. It’s also great on pizza. But I love “real” bacon. The thought of a burger or chicken sandwich without it is simply unbearable, let alone a big weekend breakfast or salad.
According to the good folks at USDA, the headlines may have forecast a bacon shortage, but after reviewing the facts, it really isn’t so. Right now it looks like hog farmers did not reduce the sow herd nationwide, which indicates they may be planning to increase production next year. U. S. consumers may feel a shortage of pork, but that is a result of international demand, not the drought. So there’s still going to be plenty of bacon on grocery store shelves. It just may be priced a little bit higher.
To help keep the price increase in context, the good folks at USDA reported that bacon reached an average price of $4.61 per pound a couple of months ago, which was a significant price hike from earlier in the summer but actually lower than the average price of a year ago.
At that point in time it was even more expensive than ham, pork chops or what the USDA calls “all other pork.” At the end of September, the average price for a pound of sliced bacon had decreased to $4.05, which was 22 cents less than the previous week.
According to some economists, the current drought situation may increase prices for bacon and other pork products by as much as 10%. The one thing economists do agree upon is that reports of a shortage of the bacon we Americans know as bacon is not valid.
A consultant to the National Pork Board said use of the word shortage caused visions of gasoline shortages from the 1970s. If the definition of a shortage means that you cannot find it on the grocery store shelves, then the concern is not legitimate. But if the concern is for higher cost, then it is justifiable.
As of Sept. 1, the U. S. hog inventory stood at 67.5 million head, a slight increase from a year ago. USDA continues to suggest that pork supplies will tighten next year as the nation’s breeding stock and intended farrowings likely decrease due to high — and possibly higher — feed costs.
Substantial liquidations remain a high probability, with the National Pork Board’s consultant predicting that 3% of the nation’s breeding pigs could move to slaughter by next March, which would be a huge move. But not enough to create a bacon shortage or shortage of other pork products in the meat case at your favorite supermarket.
So what should you tell your friends who are all up in arms about a bacon shortage?
We’ve still got plenty of pork. We’re not going to run out. There will be plenty of bacon. They may have to pay just a little bit more for it. Nonetheless, continue to dig the pig.