Why the impending Bacon Shortage matters

Two words that are sure to strike fear in the hearts of meat-lovers everywhere: Bacon Shortage. “Where?!?” you ask with porcine temerity. “Everywhere!” comes the disconsolate reply. The news media are all abuzz with their newest catch phrase: Global Bacon Shortage. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

OK. Let’s be serious now. Bloomberg is reporting, somberly, that livestock feed prices are up, and hog farmers cannot afford to maintain large herds:

“U.S. hog farmers are slaughtering animals at the fastest pace since 2009 as a surge in feed costs spurs the biggest losses in 14 years, signaling smaller herds next year and a rebound in pork prices. The 73.3 million hogs processed in eight months through August were the most in three years, U.S. Department of Agriculture data show. Pork supply will drop to the lowest per- capita since 1975 next year, the USDA estimates.” (Bloomberg.com)

Here’s what’s happening. Livestock feed for cows, pigs, poultry, even farmed fish are largely a combination of corn (for carbs and protein) and soybeans (for dietary fat and more protein). The summer 2012 drought in the U.S., which also affected Russia and parts of Europe, destroyed much of the corn crop. The soybean crop was also damaged considerably by the drought. Commodity prices for corn and soybeans have doubled over what they were less than 2 years ago. As a result, livestock feed prices have skyrocketed.

The price for feed has gone so high that hog farmers will lose money if they keep feeding their herds. So they send a much larger portion of their pig herds to slaughter. This brings in money that can be used to feed the rest of the herd, until feed prices fall. It also results in lower prices for the pigs that are slaughtered now, and makes for a glut of pork products at the consumer level. So, short term, there will be an increase in supply and perhaps a temporary decrease in the price of pork products.

Isn’t this good news for bacon lovers? Sadly, no. Since the herds are decreasing in size, to the lowest levels since 1975, low supply high and prices will be the eventual result. Some hog farmers are being forced out of business. The rest are greatly reducing the size of their herds. Low supply means higher prices for all porcine-based foods: bacon, pork chops, Canadian bacon, ham, maple bacon, pork roasts, applewood-smoked bacon, pepperoni, pepper-coated bacon, sausage, hickory-smoked bacon, non-all-beef hot dogs. The list goes on and on.

“No problem,” you say. “I like steak and chicken just as well”. Big problem. Cows and chickens are fed on corn and soy also.

A September 2012 Wall Street Journal article, “Beef Prices Balloon as Herd Thins,” says:

Dry weather since 2011 has made it difficult for ranchers to keep cattle on the range. The drought has parched pastures and curbed corn, hay and soybean production, driving up the price of feed. Last year, ranchers sold more animals than normal to slaughterhouses rather than pay the high cost to feed them. With supplies trimmed, consumers and wholesalers across the country are facing higher prices…. Traders and forecasters are predicting more of the same next year as the nation’s total cattle herd has shrunk to its lowest level in 60 years. (WSJ)

There it is again. The drought has raised the cost of livestock feed. So ranchers sell off their cattle, temporarily increasing the meat supply. But within a few months, the reduced size of the herds will mean a shorter supply and higher prices. The same process could well occur with poultry and lamb and farmed fish. Dairy prices are also likely to rise sharply, for much the same reasons. By sometime in 2013, we should see higher prices across the board for meat, poultry, fish, and dairy.

You say: “I’ll have the bacon cheeseburger deluxe.” The waitress says: “I’m sorry, we’re all out of bacon, and cheese, and hamburger. Would you like to see our imitation meat menu? It’s made with real textured soy protein!” But you decline, because you can only afford to eat soy-based fake-meat on special occasions. Soy prices have gone up too.

“Global Bacon Shortage” is an understatement. More like A-pork-alypse Now.

— Thoreau

Post Script from WebMD: Can Bacon Be Part of a Healthy Diet? Short answer, No, not really. But in case you want to ignore their advice on eating healthy, the article includes several bacon-tastic recipes.

2 Responses to Why the impending Bacon Shortage matters

  1. Good time to fill the freezer full of wild hogs. Little gamier than domestic but good eating and fun to hunt!

  2. Slate.com has now posted an article claiming that there will be no bacon shortage. I say, “Denial is the first symptom!” They also have a good primer on the meaning of ‘bacon’ in Canada and Great Britain, versus the U.S.