There are news stories that instantly make headlines. There are news stories that slowly migrate from one news organization to another. Then there are news items that only become media mainstream after they have buzzed all over social media and become the topic of casual conversation in long checkout lines, water coolers, and Starbucks. The predicted world shortage of bacon is one of the latter. First predicted by the British Pig Association, the possibility of a world bacon shortage has produced smirks, puns, and genuine concern. As a bacon loving broadcaster and professional big mouth, I received a number of requests to speak on the bacon situation, or as one Facebook punster put it, the aporkalypse.
According to the British Pig Association (by the way in the UK it is not called pork but rather pig meat), “A world shortage of pork and bacon next year is now unavoidable.” This was the opening line of a September 20 press release that send the world’s bacon lovers into shock. The problem is that most bacon lovers raced off to stock up on bacon and did not bother to read the second paragraph of the release. It said, “New data shows the European Union pig herd is declining at a significant rate, and this is a trend that is being mirrored around the world. Pig farmers have been plunged into loss by high pig-feed costs, caused by the global failure of maize and soya harvests.” Judging from the worldwide hysteria, only a few folks read down to the 4th paragraph where the real purpose behind the BPA release was stated, “In its Save Our Bacon campaign, NPA is asking shoppers to make a point of selecting pork and bacon with the British independent Red Tractor logo, as an increase in demand for British product now may help persuade supermarkets to act before it is too late.” Yes, rather than an actual warning about a shortage of the world’s best tasting food, this was part of a shameless marketing campaign to get British consumers to buy British bacon.
As the story went viral, the US pork industry tried to calm an anxious public by saying the bacon scare was a bunch of hogwash. They assured US bacon lovers there would be enough bacon to go around. This also provided an opportunity for the industry to warn consumers that bacon prices would be going up, along with most meat prices, in 2013. While the reduced corn supply — caused by the drought of 2012 — will have little if any impact on a box of corn flakes, consumers will feel the impact at the meat case and beef, pork, and poultry prices move higher next year. This was one of those rare teachable moments, when consumers were actually interested in what was happening in the pork industry.
While the price and supply of corn will have an impact on the US bacon situation, there is a much different set of forces at work in the UK that prompted their shortage. The UK, at one time, had a thriving pig industry. But, over the past decade, increasing government regulations on pig farmers have forced many out of business. The Brits and their EU neighbors have piled mountains of animal welfare, anti-GMO, and environmental regulations on livestock producers. In some cases, the government even limits the number of animals farmers can raise. It is no wonder that pork production in Europe and the UK has suffered. While they are quick to blame the US drought and higher corn prices, the truth is their bacon crisis is their own fault.
All those consumers, bloggers, facebookers, and media outlets who squealed loud and long about a bacon shortage or the likelihood they would have to pay more for their bacon, should also go hog wild when HSUS wants to change the perfectly humane and cost efficient way producers raise bacon, or when liberals in Washington try and take away the drugs farmers use to keep their herds healthy. The real aporkalypse is the triple whammy pork producers are facing: record financial losses, consumer animal welfare pressures, and the lack of any support in the form of risk management or safety net programs from the USDA.
I am not concerned about a bacon shortage but rather about a pork producer shortage. If we are not careful, we could end up like the UK, dependent on other nations for our food supply and, worse yet, our supply of bacon. Our nation has had to go to war several times to protect our supply of imported oil from the Middle East. Just think if we had to go to war against Canada and Mexico to protect our supply of imported bacon.
By Gary Truitt