I’ve seen a few people joke about it… I’ve seen a few people seriously ask about it.. And I’ve seen news media all over it. Is there really going to be a bacon shortage…? The simple asnwer is no. Well, because, bacon requires pork so in order to be a bacon shortage, there must also be a pork shortage. I’ll get into the whys and how comes a bit later. First, let’s talk about BACON. How many of you actually know what cut of the hog bacon comes from…??
Where does BACON come from…?
Bacon, as we know it here in the United States, comes from the belly of a hog. If you remember from WAY back when I posted this in depth write up about how we take a hog from hanging on a hook, cut it up, and send it out the door in packages.. You can find this image:
Basically this shows you the pork belly with the spare ribs attached. The spare ribs are then “scooped” (or cut) off the belly. In the bottom right is what an UNCURED pork belly looks like, it is then cured meaning it is put into a brine made up of basically salt, sugar, and nitrites. Nitrites are an essential ingredient when curing. They not only help kill bacteria (especially botulism), but also produces a characteristic flavor in cured meat and gives cured meat a pink or red color. After it goes through the curing process, it is then smoked (essentially cooked), sliced, and packaged for retail sales.
I know in the past there has been a lot of hype about nitrites. But in order for the product to be classified as a “fully cooked, cured” product, it must contain nitrites according to USDA. There are other methods of “organically” curing which use a substitute such as celery root juice, etc. BUT as a customer, please don’t be conned into thinking it is “nitrite-free”. It doesn’t matter if you are using a natural ingredient or a synthetic ingredient, the process of curing STILL produces nitrites in the product. So basically, if you are seriously concerned about nitrite intake, just don’t eat cured meat. Or spinach, beets, radishes, celery, or cabbage for that matter. All of those vegetables actually contain more nitrites than cured meat. And if you still love bacon and cured meat but worry, rest assured, in order to consume a lethal amount of sodium nitrite to kill you, an average 150 lb. adult would have to eat 18.57 pounds of cured meat AT ONCE containing 200 ppm (parts per million) of sodium nitrite. And quite frankly, consuming that much cured meat, it wouldn’t be the nitrite that would the the toxic factor, it would be the salt (sodium) that would be the most toxic.
Anyway.. For more information or the science behind nitrites check out this article put out by University of Minnesota. And more for information about the different types of bacon, check out this Fun Meat Fact Friday post!
Where did the idea of a bacon shortage come from…?
So.. now we know where bacon comes from and how it’s made. So what’s this deal about a shortage…? Well, last week the U.K.’s National Pig Association issued a press release about shortages in pork production in across Europe. Basically they were urging customers in Britain to support their own local economy by purchasing British grown and raised pork in order to keep their prices low as well as supply coming. Basically their thinking is this:
British supermarkets can protect consumers from shortages and steep price rises if they pay Britain’s loss-making pig farmers a fair price, to help them remain in production… NPA believes slaughterings could fall by as much as 10 percent in the second half of next year, which indicates a doubling of the price of European pork and pork products. “If supermarkets act now, they can prevent this happening,” says NPA.
To see the full press release, you can read it on the NPA UK Website: http://www.npa-uk.org.uk/Pages/Press_Releases.html
Why bacon got thrown into the pork-shortage frenzy..? Well, I guess because everyone loves bacon. And they knew once media got ahold of it, it would spread like wildfire. So now you may or may not be wondering why all of a sudden there would be a shortage of pork? Our food system requires a lot of different things in order for it to work, especially when it comes to animal production. When you choose to consume animal products, you aren’t ONLY supporting the farmer/rancher that raised those animals, you are also supporting the farmer who raised the feed to feed those animals.
A little lesson in Economics…
If you watched the news this year or maybe you’ve noticed it yourself, but there’s been a lack of moisture (rain) this year in the United States or basically, a drought. When you were watching the news, you may have been thinking.. well now how does this effect me? Afterall many of the stories on the news expressed the sob story for the farmers. But the economic consequences of drought extend far beyond farmers and their communities. Let’s put two and two together. There may be a shortage of pork because the drought has caused yields of corn and soy to drastically decrease. Meaning there will be LESS produced than in the past, but the same amount of livestock needing to be fed. Since there will be less corn and soy to go around, the price increases. So now animal producers are forced into paying high-feed costs caused all by the reduced production of corn and soy. Hello Economics! Are you still with me?
This shortage of corn and soy affects the price of meat gradually. In the short term, drought and expensive feed costs lead to animal producers preparing for the hit, so they send their herds to slaughter. This in turn produces an abundance of “cheap” meat because everyone selling off their herds are flooding the market. However, if you look at the long term, once we catch up, we will be left with fewer animals being raised but the same amount of demand and usually this drives the price of meat up. So although you may not see prices spike or increase right away, over time, it may be possible to see the price of our beloved bacon gradually increase.
Another thing to consider is when you are dealing with animals raised here in the U.S., it’s important to note that exports of meat produced here come into play when it comes to the price WE pay for meat as well. The United States is the main provider of meat products for some places in the world. Although consumption of beef in the United States reigns supreme, on a global scale, pork consumption takes the cake. The United States exports almost double the amount of pork than beef. U.S. Exports of Pork account for almost 19 percent of total production with Mexico being the leading export market. Countries like China, Japan, Canada, South Korea, and Russia also rely on U.S. exports for their pork.
Bottom line is that it’s important when making food choices as well as voting on food related issues, etc. that you look at the long term effects. You think about who else it could affect not only in your own community but also across this country and globally. Afterall, who knew that the drought could affect so many people, some of which don’t even live in this country!? So much so that the National Pig Association of Britain put out a press release trying to inform their customers of the issue. So, rest assured, your bacon sources aren’t going to be drying up anytime soon. It just may mean that you are paying a little more in the price per pound to satisfy your bacon tooth!